On average, 50 public architectural competitions and dozens of private competitions are held in the Czech Republic every year. This is the way to achieve a quality and ambitious project, and not only for structures in public space.

When designing structures and other construction projects, the eternal dilemma is whether to prioritise price or quality. Every investor, private or public, has to deal with it. It is always best to find the ideal balance between the two criteria. The way to achieve the selection of a quality structure project under optimal price conditions is through an architectural competition.

I compete, you compete, we compete

In an architectural competition, an investor, with the help of experts, obtains an architectural design for the construction project. It is a process that can be carried out in different variations by both private and public investors.

In the Czech Republic, the most frequent investors, i.e., contracting authorities for architectural competitions, from among public entities are municipalities and regions, which most often seek ideal designs for schools, multi-purpose cultural or sports facilities, elderly care facilities or public spaces.

In addition to regional projects, however, there are also more and more important competitions of national importance organized by state institutions; an example is the competition for the design of the Prague East Terminal for the first ever high-speed railway line in the Czech Republic, in which we participated as organizers. With its architectural and technical design, this project symbolizes a new era of train transport and infrastructure in the Czech Republic. Increasingly, private investors are also choosing architectural competitions in various forms.

Selection by regulations

The practical procedure for selecting the architect and the project in the competition is determined primarily by whether the investor is a private company or an individual or, on the contrary, a public entity that finances the future construction project from public budgets. In the latter case, the whole process is subject to the rules set by the Czech Chamber of Architects and the Public Procurement Act (PPA).

If the estimated value of the tender procedure is higher than CZK 2 million excluding VAT or if the follow-up performance is awarded in so-called negotiated procedure without publication, in such a case the public investor is fully subject to the PPA, which offers the investor a choice between a design contest or a competitive dialogue.

The most common method of announcing architectural competitions is currently a design competition. Based on a description of the future construction project, architects submit designs anonymously to the investor. These are then evaluated by a jury consisting of representatives of the investor and representatives of the architectural community independent of the investor. At the same time, on the jury the number of independent experts must exceed the number of the investor's representatives by at least one. This is to ensure that the competition designs are evaluated in a particularly professional manner.

We have a lot of experience with this specific type of public procurement procedure. We will recommend the appropriate form of competition and ensure it goes smoothly.

The jury usually selects three of the accepted designs to be awarded competition prizes. Once this order has been decided, only then are the names of the authors of all the evaluated competition designs revealed. The competition ends upon this and, in accordance with the PPA, is followed by negotiations on the development of an architectural study and the development of the project, usually with the winner of the competition.

A competitive dialogue has a similar process, except that the designs are not evaluated anonymously, so it is known from the very beginning who is the author of which design. The dialogue is usually applied to complex specifications, where the investor and the architects held discussions during the creation of the design itself, resolving details and refining the specifications.

A different procedure can be chosen by the public sector investor for tender procedures with an estimated value of less than CZK 2 million excluding VAT and the follow-up performance is not awarded in a negotiated procedure without publication. In such a case, it is not necessary to follow the PPA, but it is still necessary to comply with the rules set out in the Competition Procedure Rules of the Czech Chamber of Architects. Again, there are two ways to choose, namely an architectural competition (in the strict sense), where anonymous designs are evaluated, or a competition workshop, where again the authors are known from the beginning. The procedure is therefore similar to that for competitions governed by the PPA.

Free discipline

A private investor has a freer hand when it comes to the process of selecting and organising an architectural competition. The investor does not have to follow the rules stipulated in the PPA, and the procedure, therefore, does not have to be so formal. However, if the investor announces an architectural competition in a similar form to the design competition, then the investor should also comply with the rules of the Competition Procedure Rules of the Czech Chamber of Architects.

Another option for the private investor to select the best architectural design for the project is the possibility of so-called parallel specifications. This practically means that the investor asks several architectural studios to prepare a design for the structure but agrees with them in advance to pay them a fee.

Competitions with an advantage

So, if an investor, whether private or public, is considering whether an architectural competition would make sense for a project, we strongly recommend that the investor seeks expert advice from the outset. Experts who deal with architecture or the organisation of competitions can help the investor to create a budget, define the investment plan and select the appropriate type and purpose of the competition. Based on this, the investor can then decide whether an architectural competition is the right choice.

In the process of deciding whether or not to organise a competition, some investors argue that the architectural competition is too lengthy and expensive. These are typical objections we encounter in the practice of pushing forward architectural competitions.

Yes, the architectural competition is a longer process than other methods of achieving the structure design and quality architecture. The designs of the individual competitors require sufficient time. However, it is necessary to add that the time spent on the thorough preparation of the competition will provide the investor with quality input information on the area to be developed and the investor should not be surprised by anything unpleasant in the construction process. In some cases, it is not worth rushing too much, as it will pay off for the investor many times later.

Prague East Terminal, authors of the design: Ing. arch. Jiří Opočenský, Ing. arch. Štěpán Valouch, Ing. Petr Malinovský, Ing. Petr Vyskočil

It is equally true that architectural competitions are a more expensive option than other possible options. However, the higher costs are related to the fact that the investor rewards expert jurors and invited experts in the architectural competition who help with the formulation of the specification and advise the investor on the selection of the most suitable competition design. At the same time, the investor is also obliged to financially reward the participation of the best competitors in the architectural competition. However, it is also true that the higher costs of the architectural competition will have a multiple return throughout the structure cycle because the quality structure design selected in the competition will significantly contribute to reducing future additional costs (design or construction).

Despite the reservations mentioned above, we are convinced that architectural competitions are clearly the right way to create quality structures and to develop innovation in architecture. A well-prepared competition with ideally set criteria for cooperation can function as a direct route to a successful goal. The National Theatre, the Brno Exhibition Centre or the iconic Ještěd Tower TV transmitter in Liberec - these are all structures selected in architectural competitions. These and many other examples confirm that they also produce high-quality and valuable architecture that is appreciated by the following generations.

New look of the Cibulka estate for the Vlček Family Foundation

As part of our pro bono activities, our law firm organized an architectural workshop for the Vlček Family Foundation, in which an expert jury selected the winning design for the reconstruction of the Cibulka estate in Prague. The Foundation will build a children’s hospice with a palliative care centre there. The HAVEL & PARTNERS team, led by partner Adéla Havlová and managing associate Kamila Kulhánková, was responsible for the complete organization and administration of the architectural workshop, which brought together a total of 48 designs. The new look of this historic complex in Prague's Košíře district will be designed by the winning architectural studio, Petr Hájek Architekti.