Sunday 18 May 2014

Your Competitive Advantage

Linda Roberts and Louise Harrison run designed2win (d2w), a consultancy focused on, amongst other things, helping Architects to maximise their chances of success in the competition process.  For many small and aspiring practices, competitions can be a valuable method to gain exposure, win new work and demonstrate specialist skills and innovation but unfortunately the market place is full of such small, aspiring practices seeking to get ahead.  Linda and Louise both have over 20 years experience of organising architectural competitions which they gained when they headed up the RIBA's competition office.  They are in a perfect position to help.  Between them they have organised and attended over 100 competition assessments – their clients include Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital, the Welsh Assembly, Urban Splash, BRE, as well as over 30 different Local Authorities.  Working with the British Antarctic Survey, they also ran the competition for Halley VI, a competition which is very close to my heart.

With this experience, unique knowledge and insight Linda and Louise can advise how you can stand out from the crowd.  They have been working with young practices, honing their skills in three key areas - open design competitions, expressions of interest and competition interviews.  Here are some of their inside tips:

General advice
Be economical, precise and focused with your workload.  Examine the tone and requirements of the brief and analyse how your submission should respond.  This is one of the key areas d2w can help with.  Judging the brief is a tricky issue.  How you interpret it can make or break your submission chances.

How you relay this to your design responses is another fundamental issue.  Is there a novel approach that will help your proposals stand out from the crowd?  Will it back-fire?  Nobody wants to spend long hours on a submission to miss the mark, which is where d2w can help.

Open design competitions
How to detect key issues in the competition brief is critical.  Then, knowing how far to develop your responses is just as important.  When should your submission be prescriptive and detailed, and when should it be loose and enigmatic?  These are some key issues d2w examine in their workshops.

Many open competitions request presentation boards and a written document.  Knowing how to manage these to convey your ideas and messages effectively is something they can help with.  How you set out your work is vital.  A combination of presentation techniques can help to make your submission stand out.  Linda and Louise have attended countless assessments and have supported the judging teams for hundreds of competitions and know how this can work. 

Expressions of interest
A key problem for small architectural practices is how to compete with the big guns when company accounts and business size are assessed against your ability to handle their projects.  One method from my own experience for Halley VI was to team up with a larger organisation as the lead consultant.  For projects of a technical nature requiring a multi-disciplinary approach this can be effective.  But this is only part of the solution - d2w can advise how to convey this arrangement as a winning working relationship which can capture the interest and enthusiasm of the client and judges.  

If you have a set number of pages to express a design response, make sure they tell your story effectively.  d2w can advise on how to convey your message in this process. 

Competition interviews
Be prepared.  Confidence is key, but to establish team confidence, the preparation needs to be effective and thorough.  Knowing what not to take can be as important as knowing what to take.  Selecting team members and knowing how to interact in the interview environment is critical.  Being sharp and slick doesn’t come without the correct practice, which is what d2w can advise on.

Overall, be economical with your work to hit the target as efficiently and as effectively as possible.  Don’t waste precious time.

This is just a taste of the areas Linda and Louise cover in their workshops.   If you need some expert help with your killer competition submission, contact d2w.

To illustrate one point, Peter Cook's sketches for the Abedian School of Architecture competition proved to be a point of interest for the submission.  He tells the story in his UCL lecture.

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