Secrets to Success: Inside the Mind of an Architizer A+Awards Judge

Want a sneak peek into the thought process of a jury member who evaluates your A+Awards submissions?

Tyler Suomala Tyler Suomala

Tyler Suomala is the Founder of Growthitect, a weekly 5-minute newsletter that helps busy architects grow their income, value and confidence. For daily humor and helpful tips, connect with Tyler on LinkedIn.

Want a sneak peek into the mind of a judge who evaluates your A+Awards submissions? I had the honor of judging Architizer’s A+Awards for the first time in 2023. This year, I’ll be returning to the 12th Annual A+Awards jury alongside an incredible collection of industry experts! Submissions are due this Friday, February 23rd, and I can promise you there’s still enough time to put together a winning submission.

Enter the 12th Annual A+Awards

Last year, I spent several evenings reviewing and ranking submissions for eight different categories of work. It took me back to my own hopeful awards submissions of the past. It’s SO HARD to win awards for your work, right?

Many architects struggle to assemble a compelling application that effectively conveys their accomplishments and unique approach to a project. You’re unsure what to include in the application, how to showcase your work in the best possible light, or how to make your submission stand out from the hundreds of others the judges will review.

Understandably, awards can be a source of frustration. You put a tremendous amount of work and effort into your projects, only to have their submissions overlooked or rejected. And while we don’t necessarily do architecture for the awards, failing to win awards for your work can be demotivating.

So why not dive deeper into the perspective of a judge? Because while all of the work was incredible, the presentation of the work itself varied greatly. And when it comes to awards, the presentation makes all the difference.

Here are 3 simple things you can do to improve your submission.

1. Address the Criteria Directly

HiLo Unit at NEST by ETH Zurich, Block Research Group, Dübendorf, SwitzerlandPopular Choice Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Innovation

Something that becomes immediately clear is whether or not a firm chose to read the requirements and adjust their submission accordingly. It’s obvious if a firm does a simple copy + paste of the project description from their website versus a firm that explains how and/or why the project addresses the evaluation criteria.

Take the time to read through the submission guidelines and make sure you understand exactly what the judges are looking for.

For example, I was asked to judge projects based on three criteria — form, function and impact. Some descriptions were more indirect in relation to the criteria, forcing me to read between the lines. Others addressed each criterion directly and explained how the project responded to each, which made it much easier to evaluate. By being more direct, firms can better control the conversation and thought process of the judges.

Focus on highlighting the aspects of your work that align with the award criteria.

For example, if the award is focused on sustainable design, ensure you include information on the sustainability features of your project and how they impact the environment. If the award is focused on community impact, be sure to highlight the ways in which your project positively impacted the surrounding community. Heck, throw in a quote from an end user of the project just to really bring home the impact!

2. Activate Images with People

Jadgal Elementary School designed by DAAZ Office, Photos by Deed Studio-UAE, Sistan and Baluchestan Province, Iran | Popular Choice Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Architecture +Photography & Video

Architecture ultimately serves people and society. So while images of the building itself are important, photos that show how people interact with and use the space are more impactful. Sure, this is my personal opinion but there’s also some science behind it. It’s a little known marketing tactic that images with people tend to increase conversion rates because they’re more relatable.

Images that show occupied spaces help judges understand the human impact of your work. They can also help them understand how the space is used and how it meets the needs of its users. Bonus points if the image is powerful enough to welcome the viewer in and allow them to imagine being in the space.

In general, I found myself more drawn to images of architecture that were activated by people.

3. Tell a Story

Warrnambool Library and Learning Centre by Kosloff Architecture, Warrnambool, Australia | 11th Annual A+Awards, Jury Winner in Libraries; Popular Choice Winner in Architecture +Learning

It’s important to consider the order of your visual material. Rather than simply grouping together similar drawings and images, think about the narrative and story you want to tell. Stories oscillate between different feelings and emotions to hold our attention. They have a beginning, middle, and end. They need context. They need characters. Maybe even heroes, villains, and sidekicks.

It might make more sense to sprinkle drawings in between photos of the spaces that they represent, for example. Perhaps the images of the building’s context would be best suited towards the end because the story begins within a small interior.

By being thoughtful and deliberate with the order, you lead the judges through an engaging story of your project so they can appreciate the thought and care that went into its design and execution.

TL;DR [too long; didn’t read]

Awards are hard to win. But there are some things that you can do to better capture the attention of the judges.

  1. Address the criteria directly so that the judges can easily evaluate.
  2. Activate images with people because they are better at capturing attention.
  3. Tell a story with a thoughtful order of visual material.

And don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t win. The true measure of project success is determined by the people that occupy the architecture every day, not some remote judge with a newsletter that is beloved by thousands of architects 😉

Now you have the secrets to success, you’re ready to participate! Time is ticking — submit your best new projects before this Friday February 23rd, 2024. Hit the button below to get started on your entry:

Enter the 12th Annual A+Awards

Top image: Ghaf Majlis by Etereo Design, Ajman, United Arab Emirates Popular Choice Winner, 11th Annual A+Awards, Mixed Use (S < 25, 000 sq ft)

Tyler Suomala Author: Tyler Suomala
Tyler Suomala is an archi-techie and business development professional at Monograph. He helps architects better communicate their unique value through his fun and popular weekly newsletter, Tyler Tactics.
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