Architectural Competitions

Selecting the right architect and design team is central to the success of any project. One of the best methods of doing this is through competition.

Architectural competitions encourage new talent and innovation and, if properly administered, can be stimulating and worthwhile for both clients and architects. The RSUA is constantly seeking to promote excellence in architectural design and the RSUA Competitions Service recognises the important role played by competitions in achieving this aim.

If an architect is to be selected by some form of competition, the first and most important decision is whether the competition should be to select an architect, or to select a design. Selecting an architect through competitive interview is relatively quick and is especially suited to projects where it has not been possible to define a brief in sufficient detail for a design competition. In both cases there are basic rules that should always be met.

At least one independent assessor should be appointed as a member of the competition panel to help the client choose the most appropriate architect for the project through the review of designs and also through interviews with participants. It is important that the client retains ownership of the competitive process and the RSUA therefore recommends that client representatives make up the majority of the assessment panel.

Clearly defined competition rules must be established at the outset. These should be published with the announcement of the competition itself and adhered to throughout the process.

Quality must be kept at the forefront of any competitive process. Fees should be kept separate from the main competitive process.


In addition to these basic rules a competition must also take account of any number of outside considerations that will influence the final choice of competitive process. These include European and local considerations.

E U Regulations:
If more than half of the project is made up of public funding (including Lottery funding) and the architect's fee for the project is likely to be more than £139,893 (from 1 Jan 2008) then the project is subject to the procedures laid out in the EU Procurement Directives.

Local Considerations
There are a number of factors relating to a project and its location that should be considered before embarking on an architectural competition. These include any local Planning considerations, listed building constraints, site ownerships, community pressure groups, funding issues and so on. Although these will probably not impinge on the format that the competition takes, they may well affect the brief and the overall project strategy.


There are four basic types of architectural competitions. These are as follows:

Competitive Interview:
Unlike other forms of architectural competitions, the competitive interview allows one to select an architect, not a design.

Open Competitions:
In an open competition architects are invited to submit sketch designs anonymously against a given brief. A two-stage open competition allows a shortlist of contenders to develop their ideas further, (for an appropriate fee), to meet a more detailed brief.

Limited-entry Competition:
With a similar format to the open competition, a limited-entry competition is restricted to architects who meet certain published criteria.

Invited Competition:
If it is appropriate to limit the field of competition to a specific list of architects, entries can be invited on that basis. Competitions of this type require a fee to be paid to all entrants.

Which one to use?
It is important that each competition is tailored to suit the requirements of each individual client. For example, a combination of competitive interview, and a limited design competition may well be appropriate. The RSUA Competitions Office has been established to help clients select the right competitive process and then to manage that process through to the appointment of the winning architect.