Receiving their Due

Back in March, Canadian comedian Mike Myers caused a stir when he presented the Academy Awards for sound effects and sound editing with mock enthusiasm. The implication was unmistakable: no-one really cares about these technical categories, compared with the glamorous acting and best film awards. Myers’ gag was not well received by the technicians whose work it allegedly belittled; but in the end, it helped publicize the importance of technical minutiae and attention to detail in the production of successful films.

Things aren’t all that different when it comes to architectural awards. Two years ago, I reported on efforts by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) to respond to criticism that, in programs like the Governor General’s Awards, projects are chosen purely for their aesthetic appeal, sometimes at the expense of technical prowess and programmatic performance. Troubled by this perception, the RAIC established an Awards Task Force to examine alternatives that would take into account a broader base of architectural achievement (see CA May 1999).

The Task Force put forward recommendations for new awards for areas of architectural achievement unrecognized in existing programs. These consisted of a Twenty-Five Year Building award and a series of awards for Specialized Design: Societal Advancement, Technique/Technology, Environmentally Responsible Design, Architectural Conservation, Urban Design, and Open. The Task Force also recommended establishing Practice Awards (in the form of a Firm Award, one for Innovative Practice, and a Client Award), an award for Research and Theory and an Outstanding Teacher Award.

Intending to present these in alternate years to the Governor General’s awards, the RAIC was to launch this new program in 2000. Instead, the Institute decided to create a special Millennium Celebration of Excellence, a more inclusive event that generated considerable media and public interest. As a result, the new program was postponed.

A portion of that original proposed program is being launched at this year’s Festival of Architecture in Halifax from May 30 to June 2. Two awards will be presented for the first time: Innovation in Architecture and Contract Documentation.

The Innovation in Architecture award is intended to recognize the development of new technology, design processes and details, and innovative adaptation of existing technology. It covers areas of specialization in the practice of architecture including management, project delivery, energy conservation, construction processes and building envelope. Submission requirements include a three-page written summary and all necessary graphics and text to describe the work, but could also include “any additional information necessary to fully describe the innovation.” Eligibility for the award is limited to architects in Canada, or RAIC members, individually or in collaboration with others, as well as architectural practices with offices in Canada.

The Contract Documentation award will recognize excellence in the documentation of architecture, including clarity in the communication of ideas, the precision and originality of documentation, exemplary co-ordination of disciplines, and the quality of instructions and directions. Submission requirements are extensive and more strictly prescribed than for the Innovation award, including photographs of the completed project (overall views of the building and photos of the project’s details–renderings would be accepted for projects that had not yet been constructed). Also required is a summary of what is special about the contract documentation, and a set of bound construction documents–drawings and specifications–complete with documentation from all engineering disciplines. Eligibility criteria are similar to those for the Innovation award.

RAIC Executive Director Jon Hobbs reported that 40 entries had been received for the two awards. “We would have liked to see more, but that’s a pretty good showing for the first year of a program.” Declining to specify how many had been entered in each category, Hobbs hinted that submissions to the Innovation category exceeded those submitted to Contract Documentation, but stated that in both cases there were “enough entries to make the judging process meaningful.”

The jury for the Contract Documentation award, which met on April 6, consisted of Robert Grossman, MRAIC of Adamson Associates of Mississauga, Ontario; Michel Languedoc, FIRAC of Montreal’s Ttreault, Parent, Languedoc et Associs; and Jim Yamashita, FRAIC of Smith Carter Architects and Engineers Incorporated of Winnipeg.

Although winners will not be announced until the awards are presented in Halifax, a report prepared by Michel Languedoc on behalf of the jury sheds some light on the adjudication process and the quality of submissions. The report states that in order to facilitate consensus, the jury established a set of criteria that included: clarity and expression; precision and relevancy; communication of ideas and technology; integration of building sciences into architecture; quality of building systems; and originality of document presentation.

The report states that the judges “were really impressed with the professionalism of our colleagues. The level of detail is at a point where shop drawings will become unnecessary.” The jury noted that submissions successfully addressed all the criteria with the exception of the last one, stating that “‘originality of document presentation’ was found to be unsatisfactory, considering the possibilities computers now offer to architects.” Paradoxically, the report also remarked that “the most recent projects” used computer technology to the extent that “we are not far from animated instructions.”

In the end, the jury selected four projects to receive awards, two based on stipulated sum contracts and two on construction management. The report noted that the two stipulated sum projects each resulted in change orders representing less than one half of one percent of the contract price, reflecting the thoroughness and accuracy of the contract documents. “It is worth mentioning because it illustrates that the client will profit from good documentation prepared with competence and dedication.”

As this issue went to print, the judging for the Innovation in Architecture award had yet to take place. The judges for that deliberation, scheduled for April 27, are Bruno Freschi, FRAIC of Washington, D.C.-based Cannon Design; Peter Busby, FRAIC of Busby + Associates Architects of Vancouver; and Dr. Sherif Barakat, P.Eng., Director General, Institute for Research in Construction, National Research Council, Ottawa.

The RAIC is hopeful that the results of this first round of the new awards will spark interest in future installments. As for the formidable slate of awards originally proposed by the Task Force, Hobbs notes that they are still being discussed by the Institute’s Board, and adds that he believes that the program will continue to expand.