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Student Sustainable Design Competitions

Either you love them or you hate them, but design competitions play a role in most college design courses. As the academic year finishes up, it’s time to think about where a sustainable design competition might fit into the schedule for next year. Here are a few ideas.


In the UK, the RSA student design awards are a vey longstanding tradition that usually contain one or more sustsainably focussed briefs.

Evolve is a new annual sustainable design competition for architecture and engineering students in Canada. It runs in the autumn and winter. Last year the brief was a net zero energy and water-wise bank branch.

In the US most of the professional design associations and even their chapters offer design competitions. Many of those have a sustainability category, and if they don’t–now’s the time to ask for it. One example is the International Interior Design Association Student Sustainable design competition (Opens October 2013).

The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) and American Institute of Architects also offer design competitions and often report on others.


The ONE Prize is an annual design and science award that promotes green design in cities. This year’s topic is Stormproof. The ONE Prize is open to students and practitioners of all design and planning disciplines and typically closes in august.

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is an annual international design Challenge to develop and implement a strategy to solve a significant human problem. Applications are due in April and the award is $100,000 to support the project.

Design Magazines often sponsor design competitions as well as list others. Some examples the include “progressive” categories are the online industrial design blog CORE77 Design Awards and Metropolis Magazines Next Generation Design Competition (here’s an example of a recent winner).

Nonprofit or design advocacy groups also run design competitions. Architecture for Humanity has a running list of competitions that range for strictly architecture to those that include more landscape and product related projects.

Be sure to search under “sustainable design competition” since new ones emerge all the time.


But if you don’t find any that really suit you and your students–look within to develop a competitino of your own.

Here’s the story of a PhD student, Jak Spencer of Loughborough University (UK), who turned his findings about laundry and sustainability into a sustainable design competition sponsored by a third party group, Forum for the Future.

You don’t even need a sponsor — you can set up your own “bragging rights” prize like a voucher for a meal out. Call the local paper yourself and get the media coverage that your department likes!


So what’s your view–Do you love or hate design competitions for your students? Sound off in the comments and let me know about any favortie competitions.

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