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Last edited 08 Oct 2020
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 the object of entering. The winner of such a contest will have established their superiority over the other contestants.
The prize in such contests may be a sum of money, an object (car, holiday, trophy, certificate etc) or the award of a contract. Examples are a football competition, a photographic competition, a design competition and so on.
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 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 issue awards to their members for achievements, or for winning competitions. Typical of these might be a travelling bursary for a student of architecture or engineering, a medal and so on. 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 an architectural (or design) competition. Architects – either individuals or practices – submit designs 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 considerablt time to preparing 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, respect from fellow professionals, and sometimes a monetary award.
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 held 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 may select on the basis of the design response and so will be looking for an entry that embodies creativity, excitement and innovation.
It is good practice for competitions to make clear in advance what criteria will be used to assess entries.
 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.
- An open design format which will normally lead to a commission, where the client selects the concept design and the team to deliver it.
Further information: RIBA Competitions – guidance for competition entrants.
Some competitions may be anonymous, with names removed from entries to avoid potential bias from the judges.
A tender is a submission made by a prospective supplier/contractor in response to an invitation to tender. It makes an offer for the supply of goods or services. Those tendering are competing with others, and generally, none of the tenderers are aware of the quotes provided by the others; therefore, they are incentivised to submit their most competitive tender. In this way, it is believed that competition in procurement can add value for the client.
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