Reflections of a National Design Award Juror

Posted by Guest Contributor on Sep 26, 2014

This spring, I had the opportunity to work with colleagues from across the country and many design firms as a juror for the 2014 American Institute of Architects/Academy of Architecture for Health Design awards. Overall, the process for participating as a Design Juror was simple, intuitive and flexible. Logistics

The jury members received email notification that the submission period was closed on March 11th and our Go-To webinar group review was scheduled for March 27th. Each jury member was given a unique log-in by the AIA to access all 53 submissions independently and each juror had the same timeframe for review. Beyond that framework, it was up to the individual to review submissions, make any notes or comments, and to ultimately rank each submission on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “strongly recommend.” While the actual ranking was done solely online through the web interface, each juror was able to download a PDF of the submission for ease of review. I found this aspect exceptionally helpful to facilitate reviewing the written submission side-by-side with the graphic submission. My personal process was to review each submission and make any initial thoughts/comments/questions in an excel file sorted by submission number. This also allowed easy access during the group review. 

The biggest challenge in reviewing the breadth and depth of each submission came in the written portion of the submission. As architects, we like to talk poetically about our work – which leads quickly to information overload reviewing 53 submissions. Interestingly, during the day-long group deliberations, it became apparent that most of us went through very similar review processes. To varying degrees, each of us looked to see if the written concept description and attributes were clearly executed in the graphic submission and vice versa. In some cases, the written description was not apparent at all in the graphics. In some cases, the written description was more far reaching than the graphics. In some cases, the written description and the graphic submission told a complete story – those were the submissions that really stood out.

Healthcare Design Awards 2014 Collage of Buildings

Click on the image to view the submissions for the 2014 Healthcare Design Awards Recipients.

Group dynamics

For the group review and deliberations, we were instructed to block out the entire day and participated via Go-To meeting. Most of us also had webcams as part of our computers and were able to have video feeds while reviewing the scoring matrix simultaneously. As one might expect, having a group of architects together to talk about other architects’ work can be a daunting task. However, I can say emphatically the discussions among the group were the most invigorating that I’ve participated in. To simplify and streamline the process, we chose to sort the scoring selection by category and by highest to lowest composite score. In addition to this ranking, we also looked for anomalies in the individual scoring. For example, if everyone in the group scored a project with all 5s, there wasn’t any deliberation during the first pass and the project was moved to a secondary review folder. If most scored a project a 5 and some scored it a 1 or 2, then there was open dialogue regarding individual assessment.

Often, the group would have the moderator open up the submission so that we could discuss in more specifics. Having my own scoring excel file with notes was extremely helpful in this stage as I could quickly search for the submission by number and open up my original thoughts and comments. Once the anomalies had all been discussed, the group would open sample projects that received all high scores and discuss those in greater detail. At each project review, the group would agree to place a project in the “Award” category or move on. For this year’s awards, there was a determination of eight total awards across the five categories – with a goal of having at least one award in each category. After discussion, it was decided that Category E (Master Planning Urban Design for Healthcare Settings) for this year’s submissions did not warrant award. The deepest submission category was Category B (Built More than $25 Million – construction cost).

Final thoughts

All of the jurors came prepared to the group review and had very good discussion points, perspective and insights. The challenge for a successful submission is to clearly and succinctly tell the conceptual story and then reinforce that story with appropriate and compelling graphics. Although initially the task can seem daunting and there is considerable time commitment to truly review many submissions, the overall experience was tremendous and I would certainly encourage others to participate when provided the opportunity.

This blog written by a former architectural designer with Array, Shane Williams.


Topics: Awards