Architectural Essay Competition

Sponsor: UC Berkeley
Type: Open, international, essay, multi-stage
Fee: none
Language: English
Awards: Fellowship

The Committee poses a Question on this website related to the topic. Students enrolled in any accredited undergraduate architecture program or diploma in architecture program throughout the world are invited to submit a 500-word essay proposal in English responding to the Question (see eligibility requirements).  Undergraduate architecture students may team up with undergraduates from allied arts and social sciences programs.

From the pool of essay proposals received, approximately 25 are selected by the PRIZE Committee as particularly promising. The selected individual students, or student teams, become Semifinalists.

These Semifinalists are invited to submit a 2,500-word essay, again in English, expanding on their proposals. A group of readers, composed of Committee members and invited colleagues, selects five-to-eight of the best essays and sends these Finalist essays to a jury of international academics and architects to select the winners.

At the conclusion of the Essay Competition submittals, all Semifinalists are also invited to submit for a BERKELEY PRIZE Travel Fellowship. Details for the Fellowship will be announced in the spring 2018. Past Travel Fellowship Competition requirements, winning submissions, and follow-up reports by the winners are available to read here on the website.
“In answering this question, go out into your local community and find two buildings that you feel best typify the social art of architecture, one of which is no more than 10 years old.  Tell us what it is about these buildings that can act as a model for future architects in creating equally successful designs.” -Competition Brief

For questions:

06.30.06 Competition Honorees

“The profession is in need of vision in order to chart a course forward. We do not always achieve our visions. We do not always share the same vision. Yet, if there are no visions to consider, we risk stagnation.”

–Louis B. Smith, Jr., AIA, Vice-Chair of the AIA Small Project Practitioners Advisory Group and member of the 2006 ArchVoices Essay Competition Jury

Today’s newsletter presents a series of such visions to consider, in the form of the honorees of the fourth annual ArchVoices Essay Competition. Challenged with the task of envisioning “an architectural practice of the 21st century” each of this year’s six honorees represents a different snapshot of what the future might hold. Like the collaborative nature of design, each individual essay contributes important ideas, but is even stronger when viewed as a collection. No one essay represents a perfect or complete vision, rather, together, they form a mosaic of possibilities and perspectives, providing different pieces of a complicated yet intriguing puzzle that is the future of architectural practice.

This year’s essays are but the latest installment in an ongoing dialogue that the ArchVoices Essay Competition has hosted–from issues facing young professionals, to the role of architecture in the public realm, to the nature of architectural practice. If the essay responses are any indication, we know that these issues are on the minds of young professionals (and older) and being discussed–from classrooms to offices to community gatherings. This year’s topic was perhaps our most ambitious to date. And while it might be difficult for any of us to imagine “the future” at the very least this year’s essays offer an honest appraisal of where we are today–a necessary evaluation as the profession moves forward.

Nine months ago, when the planning committee first started discussions for this year’s competition, the group had two primary goals: to develop a topic that would follow the continuum of the previous essay competition discussions, and two, to formulate a question that would allow a broad range of experiences and perspectives to be represented in the responses. And as in all the previous competitions, we here at ArchVoices were once again amazed at the global participation and the insightful and sophisticated responses.

The ArchVoices Essay Competition is a cumulative effort and it owes its success to the many people who have helped organize and plan, to those who have participated, to those who have read and reviewed essays, to the jury, to the sponsors, and to the general audience at large. To all of you, we say thank you. Think, read, and write on.

1. First Prize: “Research, Invention, and Collaboration”
2. Second Prize: “Expert Generalist”
3. Honorable Mentions
4. Jury Comments Regarding the Competition
5. Readers’ Choice Award Winners
6. Competition Recap
7. Sponsors

1. First Prize: “Research, Invention, and Collaboration“

First prize includes $1,356 cash and The Complete ARE Learning System, compliments of Kaplan AEC Education. The cash prize was recently increased to reflect the cost of NCARB’s ARE+IDP.

“Research, Invention, and Collaboration“
Erik Kath | New York, NY

“Let me tell you about our firm.

We are primarily concerned with the continuous advancement of the field of architecture, and inherently, the enhanced quality of the built environment. As lofty as it sounds, we want to improve the world. We do this through research, invention, and collaboration.

Before I begin, I should tell you why we started this practice in the first place. You see, we were not satisfied with the status quo. We asked ourselves why we continued to see costs escalate in making buildings at a rate exceeding the cost of living. We were constantly forced to make design decisions on the basis of cost that result in less choice, less customization, more standardization, and less quality. We were faced with numerous quality issues at the end of the construction process, solved only by reams of paper and countless hours of time. Compounding our frustration was the drive of our industry professional organizations to limit our involvement with the means and methods of construction.

We understood that we had reached a critical point where, unless we acted, our profession would face extinction. We knew we had to do three things: stay at the cutting edge of research and in turn share newfound knowledge with the entire architectural community, remain open to the possibility of new paradigms and allow invention to be a catalyst for its own necessity, and to utilize IT enabling software to collaborate seamlessly with our clients and the other fields involved in the design, fabrication, and assembly processes.”

Jury comments:
“[This essay] struck me as a great vision for the future of architecture. Architecture has always been about relationships. Usually these are spatial and deal with volumes and materials. This vision talks about creating closer relationship with universities, contractors, clients, developers, subcontractors, and others. All the parties that have a vested interest in the construction process would establish or enhance mutual relationships that provide for continual process improvements. By implication there would be aesthetic improvements as well. These relationships function on an essentially political level. The recognition of this essay is encouragement to put petty politics aside and to create a politics of collective advancement.”

–Louis B. Smith, Jr., AIA, Vice-Chair of the Small Project Practitioners Advisory Group

About the author:
Erik Kath is an intern architect with Hillier Architecture in New York. He is currently working toward completion of IDP and hopes to begin taking the ARE in 2007. He received his Bachelor of Architecture from Kent State in 2004.

2. Second Prize: “Expert Generalist“

Second prize includes a 30gb Apple iPod, compliments of Architosh and two ARE Learning Systems of the winner’s choice, compliments of Kaplan AEC Education.

“Expert Generalist“
Will Hall | Atlanta, GA

“Conditions of the 21st century have delivered Architecture to an unprecedented opportunity- the opportunity to radically alter the general health of our global environment through our daily architectural actions. This paradigm shift, which is already in action, will be a critical change of mental perspective from one of living by convenience to one of living harmoniously and sustainably without natural ecological systems. It is not simply a matter of running out of petroleum, we will have to fundamentally change the way we conceptualize our relationship to the Earth. One of the most direct ways to make this impact is through our methods of practice and methods of building. These methods, which have remained virtually unchanged for many years, cannot fulfill this new impulse to save the earth. Architects will step forward to accept the challenge to lead our clients, consultants, collaborators and the construction industry toward this refined way of thinking.

Green building and sustainability are not new concepts, yet for some reason we have avoided some of the very basic concepts that could reduce waste, save resources and allow building to perform in a way that many are not aware can be accomplished. Green building has become more than a facet of good public relations or a new marketing strategy for corporations. It is now becoming, and will evolve to be, the next massive economic and humanitarian boom for the world….This revolution needs leadership, and architecture is poised to take the reigns.”

Jury comments:
“The essay seized on a critical issue of our time, setting out ambitious goals for creating a built environment that is lasting, enduring, and healthy, while also identifying the unique opportunity faced by the architecture profession, which is to be a leader in the movement towards green design and sustainable practice.”

–Katie Swenson, Executive Director of the Charlottesville Community Design Center

About the author:
Will Hall is an intern architect at Lord Aeck Sargent in Atlanta.

3. Honorable Mentions

The following four Honorable Mentions will each receive two ARE Learning Systems of their choice, compliments of Kaplan AEC Education.

“Not Just A Day at the Office: The Architecture Principal in 2020“
Scott Cryer | Chicago, IL

“Because of the advanced software, interactions with the contractors on site were efficient and productive. Instead of a roll of drawings, monitors on site were connected to a network and the full building model. Details were just a toggle away. One monitor on each site had an interactive function, so the contractor could sketch in the model, using a stylus and electronic touch pad, and have it viewed by the architect or any other consultants remotely. In addition the architects could sketch recommendations and clarifications during field visits, leading to constant evolution of the construction documents.

On this day, she had chosen to visit a project in which the firm was a financial stakeholder. ‘This kind of investment transforms the owner-architect relationship,’ she explained. ‘Sharing in a project’s risk and potential reward gives us instant credibility. It is one of the core values of our firm.'”

About the author:
Scott Cryer is an intern architect with Nagle Hartray Danker Kagen McKay Penney in Chicago. He is currently working toward completion of IDP and licensure. He received a Bachelor of Science in Business from Indiana University and his Master of Architecture from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte in 2003.


“Taco Bell: A Teaching Firm Treasure“
Robin Pohl | Phoenix, AZ

“It’s Monday morning and I walk through my office, sipping my cup of ambition, the ceremonious ritual of starting a new week. I see earphones on a blonde head above the monitor, bobbing to the beats. His nimble fingers are pounding another hip rhythm on the keyboard. The steady clicking of AutoCAD commands, a beautiful and gentle sound perfected and tuned over time, but he’s almost gone. Next Monday morning that keyboard will be silent.

Such is my mission: to provide a halfway house for young architectural graduates, a first step in the direction of learning and licensure, today commonly called a teaching firm. In my younger days, this was called a ‘sweatshop’, a practice instituted by my parents’ generation of architects, which consisted mainly of minimum wage drafting work in a physically and emotionally unhealthy environment. Over time this ‘trial by fire’ method has failed to meet the financial and organizational needs of the architectural community because it discourages interns and turns them away from pursuing architectural careers. Today many firms are looking overseas for the answer to their “talent shortage” caused by the recent exodus, but together the “kids” and I are looking to fill the void. Teaching firms, such as ours, are not a re-definition of architectural practice, but instead a support group to a broader, evolving practice.”

About the author:
Robin Pohl is an architectural intern based in Phoenix, AZ. She holds several degrees including a Bachelor of Arts and Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Master of Architecture from Arizona State. She is currently working towards completion of a Master of Business Administration also at Arizona State.

Jury comments:
“Although not a vision for the future, this essay is refreshingly frank in its discussion of an aspect of architectural practice that exists today. Rarely do you find someone who speaks so clearly about this aspect of the profession–a worthwhile read for anyone entertaining the possibility of entering architecture.”

–John Peterson, principal of Peterson Architects and founder and chair of Public Architecture


“The Price of Relevance“
Jonathan Powers | Montreal, Quebec

“For the discipline of architecture, great dreams have always coincided with public spirit. Such dreams make of great architectural works the talismans of an epoch and of great architects the soothsayers of a whole people. The current movements in green design, affordable housing, and university design point in the right direction, but they are insufficient in themselves. Beyond energy efficiency, social justice, and simple compassion, architecture must come to grips with the culture it participates in, and it must express that culture’s great myths and animating ideals. 21st century architectural practice will pursue its ambitious agenda by cultivating an intense curiosity about the public it serves. It will launch journals which survey everyday building users about their experiences and opinions. It will publish beautifully composed, glossy photographs of people using buildings. It will invite, evaluate, and reflect upon narratives which grapple with the meaning of architecture from a human point of view. And it will worry incessantly at the ethical issues associated with public service (e.g., who counts as the public in a given situation, and how private interests interface with public goods). At the bottom, the great question facing architects as they enter the 21st century is whether their dreams are adequate to their heritage, their responsibility, and their calling.”

About the author:
Jonathan Powers is a doctoral student at the McGill University School of Architecture in Montreal, Quebec. Jonathan has an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Amherst University and a Master of Philosophy from Boston College. He previously worked for HUD in affordable housing before moving to Montreal to begin pursuing a doctorate in architectural history and theory.


“Cultural Consulting in the 21st Century ‘Experience Economy’“
Steve Schwenk | Arlington, VA

“The mission statement of the architectural practice in the 21st century experience economy is to become cultural consultants, hired to analyze the cultural uniqueness of a client, and create a place that facilitates the translation of this uniqueness into memorable events. James P. Cramer of Design Intelligence explains: ‘Each individual’s experience in a building, space, or environment includes an emotional reaction. It’s the experience that counts, not the building.’ In the world of cultural consulting, the program could be as varied as a church, a riot, or a first date. The site could be a freeway, forest, or castle.

This vast range of potential work requires the cultural consulting practice to embody an unprecedented adaptability and versatility. To this end, a successful cultural consulting practice will differ from a traditional architectural practice in three distinct ways. First, in order to have the ability to explore design solutions differing in scale and methodology, the practice will employ an interdisciplinary staff with a diversity of design backgrounds. Second, the practice will operate as a number of mobile project teams, able to be physically dispersed around the world while staying virtually connected. Third, the practice will embrace a flexible design methodology, constantly redefining its design process as it searches for the means to design and communicate experiences more effectively.”

About the author:
Steve Schwenk is an intern architect at Envision Design in Washington, DC, where he is enrolled in IDP and is pursuing licensure. Steve will be returning to school later this year to begin work towards a Master in Architecture at Cornell University.

4. Jury Comments Regarding the Competition

“These essays are a fascinating snapshot of current positions on professional futures.”

–Leon van Schaik, Innovation Professor of Architecture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

“The essays challenged us to balance creatively exceptional visions of future design practices, against examples of today’s non-traditional practices that might evolve into models of public service through design. In these essays, technology, research, greater involvement with real estate development and ownership, and greater sensitivity for client and cultural needs, will shape practices of the future. These are positive portents for a move away from debates about pure design theory and narcissistic sculpturing, toward a greater understanding of the substantial roles architects can play in improving, and adding value to the quality of built environments for the very real and underserved clients who need our services.”

–Ted Landsmark, MED, JD, PhD, President of the Boston Architectural College

“The profession is in need of vision in order to chart a course forward. We do not always achieve our visions. We do not always share the same vision. Yet, if there are no visions to consider, we risk stagnation. Growth of the profession, whether in quantity or quality, should be an increase not in the burden we place on the world but in the intellectual resources we have to preserve and enhance the world. The competition entrants have shared visions of breadth and detail that make the growth of the profession a promising prospect. In the discourse of multiple visions, we shall all be enriched by these contributions.”

–Louis B. Smith, Jr., AIA, Vice-Chair of the Small Project Practitioners Advisory Group

5. Readers’ Choice Award Winners

Earlier this spring, ArchVoices readers were invited to take a turn as a jury member and cast their own votes for up to three essays out of the 140 initial submissions that they found to be the most intriguing, provocative, or well-written. The authors of the eleven essays with the most votes have been identified and will be rewarded with a book trio of The Ethical Architect, Good Deeds, Good Design, and Proceed and Be Bold: Rural Studio After Samuel Mockbee, all compliments of Princeton Architectural Press.

Ian Baldwin | Philadelphia, PA

“Sustainable Design: Cultivating Architectural Design”
Ana Batista | New Orleans, LA

“Architecture Practice 21st Century”
Jesse Beacom | Salt Lake City, UT

“Snow White and the Solution”
Zachary Benedict | Fort Wayne, IN

“I hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it”
Norman Blogster | Australia

“Bridging the Great Divide”
Lisette Boosooboy | Miami, FL

“Wake Up – It’s Time to Be An Architect”
Jane Decker | Miami, FL

“Make Architecture Relevant”
Christopher Mulvey | Jamaica Plain, MA

“The Price of Relevance”
Jonathan Powers | Montreal, Quebec

“Born Late”
Dwight Yee | London, UK

“Forgotten Evolution”
Radoslaw Zubrycki | Belfast, UK

6. Competition Recap

For Stage One, young professionals were challenged to write a 500-word proposal for a longer essay on the following statement and multi-part question:

    As the opportunities and demands of architectural practice evolve, entrants are asked to propose a mission statement and an action plan for an architectural practice of the 21st century. Will such an endeavor maintain current methods or redefine practice, as we have known it? What will be the key challenges? Will it be a singular entity or comprised of multiple components? Who will this practice serve and how will it sustain itself? How might the skill set acquired through architectural education and training, technology and material developments, and collaboration with related fields play a role in such a 21st century architectural practice, if at all?
The essay competition committee identified 30 of the 140 entrants as semifinalists. The semifinalists were then challenged to expand their original 500-word essays to approximately 2,000 words. Finalists were chosen by the contestants’ peers and the competition planning committee, and from this group a distinguished jury conferred six honors, including First Prize, Second Prize, and four Honorable Mentions.

7. Sponsors

ArchVoices extends its sincere thanks to the dozens of publications, websites, firms, schools, AIA components, and many others that have helped to publicize the competition. In particular, we thank the following entities for their generous financial and in-kind support, without which the competition would not have been possible:


Autodesk Design Intelligence



Kaplan AEC Education

Princeton Architectural Press

ArchVoices is an independent, nonprofit organization and think tank on architectural education, internship, and licensure.

Comments? We welcome your thoughts by email at

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “Architectural Essay Competition”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *