April Program Recap: Creating Winning Award Submittals

On Tuesday April 9th, Erin Branham of Balfour Beatty and Albert McDonald, AIA of Clark Nexsen spoke to the Research Triangle’s chapter of SMPS about creating winning design awards. Both offered in-depth perspectives on what jurors and judges want to see in award submittals. The main takeaway: find a way to present your project in evocative, design-savvy ways.

As a member of the American Institute of Architects, Albert spoke to winning architectural award submittals. Submittals are judged by AIA members hand selected by the jury chair, who is typically an internationally renowned architect. In order to make it past the first selection round, submissions must be clear and compelling. The initial juror review happens quickly; there isn’t much time to wow the panel in this cursory round. In order to grab the juror’s attention, Albert presented several recommendations:

  • Submissions should be legible on several different systems.
  • Make a clear and compelling case without overloading your slides. Keep things simple and concise.
  • An excellent way to do this is through graphics, drawings, and diagrams, which are excellent means of displaying complex ideas without the fluff. These can quickly and efficiently show the “big moves” of your project.
  • Pictures can easily convey overarching ideas behind the design. In fact, quality, professionally-taken pictures are vital in elevating a submission to the next level. Organize picture taking early, story board and brainstorm ideas with the photographer beforehand, keep in mind the seasons, and populate your pictures. This is particularly important for architectural submissions so that jurors can take not of how people interact with a space.

In the final round, the architecture statement allows your firm to describe the work in a more detailed manner. Triple check the information presented here; don’t let this brief written statement be the thing that knocks your submission down in points.

Erin had similarly great advice for construction award submissions. She noted that, win or lose, creating these submittals allows everyone who has touched the project to share in its success—your company did this! You did this! She suggests approaching award submissions as if telling a story: what do you want to say about your brand and your project? This allows you to forge an emotional connection between the jury and your project. Storytelling such as this requires both a visit to the job site and in-person interviews with project managers and others involved; aim for a variety of voices. These interviews should not operate simply as a regurgitation of fact. Ask leading questions such as:

  • What did you do that the competitors didn’t?
  • Why is this worth of an award?
  • What makes this project particularly complex?

Once you have conducted your research, Erin recommends approaching your submittal as if it is an RFP, though rather than selling potential, you are selling your company’s execution. In both cases, you need a strategy. Erin also offered concrete advice for awards submissions, such as:

  • Use pictures and graphics to compare and contrast project progress before, during, and after completion. Graphics are an ideal way to show efficient execution and an adherence to project schedule.
  • Utilize side-by-side comparison with a BIM Model.
  • Submission design matters! Choose a theme with the design team and project in mind.
  • Layout should make sense and be easy to follow. Ideally, you’re presenting technical content in a creative way. Make it fun!
  • Avoid copy-pasting boiler-plate content. Don’t be afraid of white space.
  • Unlike architectural jurors, these judges prefer pictures sans people. Contractors want the focus to be purely on the building; let it stand out on its own.
  • Wards are won or lost in the difficulty section, though safety is usually weighted most heavily.
  • Review, review, review!

And sometimes, no matter how great your project or the submission is, winning just isn’t in the cards. Look at other submissions and study those with high scores. Brainstorm fresh approaches for next time. Do your research on awards that might be looking for projects like yours. Keep at it!

Post written by Anna Blake Keeley, Marketing Assistant at RK&K

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