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Development Director and Peabody architectural competition judge Claire Bennie offers some "light-hearted and yet semi-serious" advice to competition entrants.

In the immortal words of one Twitter user, the Peabody offices on 13 December were "like Oxford Street, but with architects."

The reason for this happy development was the queue of couriers outside our door delivering over 300 entries to our Small Projects Panel competition.  That’s right: Three hundred

Architectural entries
300 and counting: Development Director Claire Bennie prepares to open the submissions

The evident effort and love put into the submissions was inspiring and I relished looking at every one. I am delighted at the responses and really excited about taking our panel forward. Together we will build beautiful homes

Digesting parcel contents

I thought some of our hard-working applicants (and maybe others who didn’t enter) might appreciate a light-hearted and yet semi-serious deliberation on what it’s like to open 300 parcels and try to digest their contents at high speed. I hasten to add, the first pass was just a first pass; all entries were subsequently examined and re-examined by a serious judging panel before the shortlist emerged. 

Judges
The judges: Executive Director Jeremy Stibbe, Development Manager Craig Horn, Development Director Claire Bennie

But as chief parcel opener and initial adjudicator, here are my top ten tips for making a good early impression when entering a competition like ours: 

Packaging

Two things: ease of opening and beauty. If it takes me two minutes to open your elaborately gaffer-taped parcel, I’ll get cross and also have less time to spend on your work (and everyone else’s). Some entries were not only easy to open, they were beautifully boxed and annotated and gave a crucial favourable early impression.

Spelling

Do I have to say this? Spellcheck is a wonderful thing. At least spell my name right...

Rushing

This is a difficult one. A few (not many, but enough) entries were clearly very rushed, or had lost their way on one of the presentation boards through last minute lack of time. It happens. It’s always worth considering whether to enter at all under those circumstances — is it better to leave a bad impression, or none at all? Theatre and TV directors always say: send us the absolutely best draft of your first script — on no account send anything until then. I think they have a point.

Drawing

Very many entries were stunningly presented — I could not believe what had been achieved in the space of four weeks. With this level of graphical ability out there, including hand drawings, details, CGIs and photos, it is imperative that the page layout, text, colour rendering and CGI style do your schemes the best favours.

Choosing

Don’t choose the obvious site! Fifty percent of the applicants chose the same site (out of three), and only 17% the least appealing one. What that means is that the 150 people who tackled the "nice" site will be compared with 149 others. This obviously lowers your chances of looking original.

Learning

This was one of my favourite aspects of the entries. Candidates were asked for a very short explanation of a "learning point" from the scheme they had completed. The practices that chose to be really honest and say what had gone wrong and what they’d do differently next time got a big tick in the box from me. Some funny and interesting issues came up, which I have actually learned something from. Very useful.

Laughing

A judicious spot of humour is important when you’re cutting your fingertips opening the 198th package. Thank you so much to the people whose funny text, small red stars or witty business cards leapt out of their entries like small jesters.

Naming

What was your practice called again? Enough with the numbers, symbols and too-long names already!

Being (female)

Ladies: where are you? Have you stopped designing buildings or entering competitions? Have I woken up in the 1950s? Only 23% of entries were signed by women.

Dining Chairs (Eames)

If I see another one in a photo, I think I’ll… 

Despite the drawbacks; the calluses, cuts and developing a small hunchback, I spent a wonderful three days enjoying the talent of a huge number of architects.  I say again — it was an absolute delight to receive so many inventive and inspiring submissions. Thank you to everyone who made the effort.

We are now moving towards the next stage of the shortlisting process and will be announcing the initial list on our website in the new year. 

Watch this space...

Claire Bennie is Development Director at Peabody