Competitions serve a larger purpose in architectural knowledge

  • Pedro Miguel Hernandez Salvador Guilherme Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias


The Beaux-Arts programme was structured around a series of anonymouscompetitions that culminated in the grand prix de ‘l'Académie Royale’, more wellknown as the ‘Grand Prix de Rome’, for its winner was awarded a scholarship and aplace at the French Academy in Rome. During the stay in Rome, the ‘pensionnaire’would be expected to regularly send his work in progress back to Paris. Contestantsfor the Prix were assigned a theme from the literature of Classical Antiquity; theirindividual identities were kept secret to avoid any suspicion of favour.These competitions ensured that the fundamental hierarchy of the members of theacademia (the teachers and juries: who defined what good art and architecture was)and those that would ascend to it (the students: who were prized and hence were thegood artists and architects) and perpetuated a secular way to ascend to stardom.The use of competitions in the traditional ‘studio’ class is still a current practice inuniversities. The class is provided with a ‘live’ project or a model case study problem, asite and a context, a fixed timetable, and each student is expected to research inarchitecture in order to present (using predetermined models and mediums) his finalconclusions (statements). Each personal architectural research is in fact subjected toan ‘informal’ (unstated) merit competition (were the teachers take the part of clients,sponsors and juries), to a peer evaluation, in order to prove its author’s right to, stepby step, become a graduated architect. The research is validated by the competitionand assures the originality of the research, its significance and rigour.There are of course mixed feelings towards competitions by different parts -architects; clients; juries or sponsors – and in face of personal past experience. Yet, itis undeniable the role and value of competitions in the process of generating aqualitative built environment. In general, competitions can bring out the best inpeople and are a way to achieve excellence in design. It can be stated that a largemajority of competitions is experienced daily either as users or as passers-by sincemost public buildings in Europe are subjected to competitions procedures.Therefore, along their professional practice, licenced architects outside the academiaand in praxis, seem to continue a personal architectural research within professionalarchitectural competitions. There are evidences that, besides the investment indeliberate or improvised practice’s business strategies, architects use competitions asfundamental research opportunities.So I intend to put forward that competitions served once (and still do) as a specificway of peer evaluating the architectural research in academia. Architecturalcompetitions are in fact a time and a space were academia and praxis connect andmay, to certain extent, constitute prove of Schon’s research-in-action and Till’sevidence of “architecture [as] a form of knowledge that can [, is] and should bedeveloped through research”.Keywords: Architectural competitions, architectural research, studio, architecturaleducation, architectural praxis