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Last edited 14 Feb 2019
A competition (noun) is a contest between two or more individuals, companies, consortia, clubs, nations or other entities who make submissions or participate in an activity with the aim of winning a prize or accolade that is itself the object of entering. The winner of such a contest will have established ipso facto their superiority over the other contestants.
The prize in such contests may be a sum of money or object (car, holiday etc), a trophy or a certificate. Examples are a soccer competition, a beauty contest and a photographic competition.
There is usually one winner in a competition, although in an awards system with various categories there will be a winner in each of the categories. In sporting and other competitions, the value is not so much in the silver trophy or medal that is awarded, but more in the kudos and prestige of having been victorious over the other contestants. There may also be a prize sum involved but this is usually regarded as incidental to the prestige of winning.
In the UK construction industry, the various professional bodies such as ICE, RIBA, RICS etc, will periodically hold contests or awards for their members or student members, whether on a regional or national basis. Typical of these might be a travelling bursary for a student of architecture or engineering. The RIBA also manages design competitions on behalf of clients.
 Architectural competitions
Generally, within the construction sector, one of the most common forms of contests is the architectural (or design) competition. Architects – either individuals or practices – submit building or landscape designs for a specified location and for – usually – a real client. The winning architect or practice often gets the commission and works on the design to completion – and earns fees for it. In addition, there may have been prize monies associated with winning, not to mention the kudos, sometimes international, that is associated.
A variant on this system is where architects team up with other design team professionals such as engineers, quantity surveyors, developers etc, to form a consortium. The consortium will be pitted against other consortia.
Architectural competitions have proved to be a good way of finding optimal solutions, delivering value and finding new or emerging architectural talent. However, entering competitions of this nature can be both time consuming and costly, with no guarantee of success. A practice may devote many man-hours to put together an entry which may lead to nothing. However, the rewards of winning may be a raised profile, the generation of new business opportunities and providing valuable experience for the team. Failing to win but being shortlisted can also be a worthwhile consolation, offering a potential launch pad for a successful career, as well as respect from fellow professionals.
The chances of being shortlisted will depend on the popularity of the competition: a large number of entrants will usually mean a lower probability of success. Potential entrants may find it difficult to gauge how many other entrants there will be. Other than a gut feeling, a good way would be to go by the competition format, the project/client profile, the sector, scale of opportunity, state of the economy (and so how busy architects are) and the availability to them of other opportunities.
 Competition process
Most design competitions are in two stages; the total number of entrants is first reduced to create a shortlist (typically five or six) and the winner subsequently selected from that shortlist. A client may select the winner on the basis of track record compared to the other entrants; or he may select on the basis of the design response and so will be looking for an entry that embodies creativity, excitement and innovation.
 Types of design competition
An Open Ideas format which may purely involve generating designs. There may be a cash prize but no firm commitment from the client to commission the winner. In that case, the winner may still reap potentially good publicity from the accolade.
Further information: RIBA Competitions – guidance for competition entrants.
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