17 Mar 2011
I have made no secret about my absolute disdain for glass block. If I thought it was worth hating I would but since I can’t hurt their feelings, I will resort to the only tool at my disposal: I won’t use it.
It’s not going to happen.
Glass blocks make my face hurt. I talk to them when no one is looking – I tell it “I am going to bust your glass”
Once again I found myself going through my collection of old Architectural Forum magazines and I found an article – a glass block design competition. What?! That’s like Godzilla vs. Megalon – a perfect storm of two terrible things. Ugh … I haven’t ever spoken out about design competitions before but let me go on the record by saying that I dislike them only slightly less than I dislike glass block. Here’s why:
Design Competitions are statistically a complete waste of time and resources.
Everybody’s time has some sort of value associated with it and an open design competition is a project that requires time to create, articulate, render, and submit. If you are doing that stuff you are not doing billable work, spending time with your friends or family, even sitting on the couch reading a book or watching TV. (*side bar* Watching TV is under-rated as a battery recharger. I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I would like to but I find it helpful as a way of turning my brain off so I can go to bed and sleep instead of lying there still processing today’s and tomorrow’s issues.)
The competition is plentiful
There are so many people who want to design and there are generally few restrictions on who is eligible to enter. If you have a pulse and the $$$ entry fee to spend, you’re in … and the end of the line is there, right next to the line to hell (they are easy to confuse with one another, the people generally look the same in either line). Have you ever bothered to look at how long the jury process takes and how many people enter? Nobody is looking at your project for more than a few moments – certainly not long enough for them to understand your concept. This harkens back to architecture school juries when some visiting professor or guest sits in on your final presentation and all they can really absorb are the quality of your graphics and the big idea. You don’t worry about the fact that the program requirements aren’t met or there are code issues, the jurors certainly won’t. Does it look cool? Is it awesome? Will it bring design awards and international media attention along with it when it gets built? Those are the major considerations which brings me to my next issue -
The project will never get built
Everybody knows that open competition projects rarely get built because they never had the funding in place from the beginning. Part of the reason to have a competition in the first place is to help with fundraising – get people excited about your project so they will contribute monies or help you find your funding. What’s the best way to do this? Let’s listen in on a typical developer conversation shall we?
Developer: I think I have a great idea for a new development on this piece of land I own!!
Intern Developer: Really? But we don’t have any money…
Developer: Don’t be naive, other people will give us money for this development!!
Intern Developer: How will we show them what we want to do and convince them to give us their money? …
Developer: We will get an architect to design it for us and prepare all the fancy graphics we’ll need!! We’ll be rich!! (commence evil and maniacal laugh) Bwah-hahahahaha!!
Intern Developer: Sorry to point this out Sir, but we still don’t have any money to pay the architect for the design work or the fancy graphics …
Developer: Did an education come with that degree of yours? We aren’t going to pay them! They will do it for free – in fact, we’ll charge them an entry fee and then you and I can take a ski trip, and we’ll drink some drinks, maybe get a few Cuban stogies … with some babes!!
Intern Developer: Sir? Sir? … Sir!! What about building codes? Aren’t there zoning issues? And then there is that hostile neighborhood group … How will it ever get built? …
Developer: You big dummy!!! Of course the project won’t ever get built … but the idea is all we need so we can sell our land at a huge mark-up!! We’ll be rich!! (again, commence evil and maniacal laugh, twist mustache) Bwah-hahahahaha!!
Intern Developer: (slapping forehead) Noowwwww I get it!! Bwah-hahahahaha!!
Nobody will ever know your name if you don’t win
There is typically a prize for finishing in the top 3. Top prize goes to the most winning-est loser and they actually get to try and develop the project into something real. The only reason there are 2nd or 3rd place finishers is so there is someone to take over the project with the most winning-est loser jumps off a bridge. You might get your name and a thumbnail image of your entry on one of the splash screen websites from Dwell, Architectural Record, ArchDaily, Inhabitat, or some other architectural news outlet but so what? Your real projects have a real shot at getting on those websites now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not but there is so much content out there that everybody is looking for something new and fresh to publish. If you do good work, those people want you to send them your projects. Getting published isn’t as difficult as it used to be with a little bit of effort.
Architects entering design competitions diminish the value of all architectural services
This is probably the most important one if you care about the architectural profession. Giving away services to one group while trying to charge for them with another group is bad business. This is so blatantly obvious that I doubt they even cover this in business school because it’s like breathing – it’s something that you should be born knowing. Let’s explain it like this:
You own and operate Godzilla Rental Truck Company and you have only one truck. The good news is that you have a great client who loves this truck and rents it from you four days a week for $100/day. The bad news is that the truck is just sitting there doing nothing on that 5th day. Somebody new comes up and tells you that they see that the truck is just sitting there every Friday and they would like to rent it from you for $50 … sounds good right? I mean, $50 is better than $0 so you agree and now you have an extra $50 in your pocket. Ha ha ha … you think, Who’s the dummy now? Until your really great client who has been paying you $100/day for four days a week for the use of your truck finds out that some new client gets the truck for $50/day and they are only renting it 1 day a week! As a result, they leave you because you are an idiot and a bad business person. The next thing you know, you go out of business, your house catches on fire and burns down, you lose the winning lottery ticket, your dog runs away, you are arrested and put in a maximum security penitentiary. That sounds pretty bad doesn’t it?
There are some competitions that I think are worthwhile and I try and participate in them as much as possible. They are almost exclusively for charities and non-profit organizations. I think it’s a good thing that architects donate their time and expertise for the benefit of others but the motivation isn’t financial in most instances. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me because I have never won a major design competition (I would have to enter first) and I am more than okay with that.
Here is the article on the Insulux Glass Block Competition – you can click on the images to have the pictures and text enlarge in a new window. Some of these entries were interesting and I would have like to have seen them built – oh yeah … what am I thinking. They never got built.
Do you think open competitions are a worthwhile use of our time and resources?