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Design contests foster creativity

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The design competition for the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site, arguably one of Adelaide’s most prized and unique locations, has not only created opportunities for emerging and talented designers, it has opened up Adelaide to the world. And it has placed the creation of design ideas at the core of the process.

Well-considered and orchestrated design competitions, though rare, are an important undertaking in Australia. They are an excellent way for all designers to compete on a level playing field, develop new skills, create ideas, and test their mettle in an anonymous environment, without old paradigms shaping the outcome.

The RAH competition allowed 126 entrants to throw off the shackles of corporate and normalised design practice, freeing up their minds so they could embrace the creative and crazy.

The process of such a competition is an intensely democratic one; whether big or small, corporate or creative, student or experienced professional, the entrants are able to gain experience in a relatively low-risk environment, placing pragmatism and delivery on hold for a short while.

Some may say taxpayers’ dollars are better spent elsewhere, but I would strongly argue that for the very small investment, the early design thinking almost always allows wider and nascent considerations to be developed, leading to a far more integrated and thoughtful outcome. It may appear at odds with commonly held beliefs, but a short and sharp, bureaucratic-free zone can lead to great things.

The two-stage process allowed ideas to be captured on a few A3 boards over six weeks, ensuring entrants had time to prepare without too much strain being placed on employer timesheets.

The challenge was to ensure the ideas – no matter how visionary or wild – were captured and espoused with a focus on what to do with the site without too much guidance.

One of the great outcomes of the subsequent shortlisting process is that the shortlisted teams have to team up with a local firm, with fees, to develop the ideas (they also retain the intellectual property, which is an added bonus). And from my perspective, the requirement to have either a registered architect or registered landscape architect proves the professions are equally positioned in the process, an excellent piece of advocacy for integrated design on the part of competition sponsor the Office for Design and Architecture SA (ODASA).

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects endorses the competition for all of the reasons outlined.

The RAH competition not only fosters a collegiate approach to design, it allows new and emergent practices, as well as the established ones, to develop new approaches to design “ideation”, to test their thinking, and for individuals to work together to create the next chapter of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

Daniel Bennett is the national vice-president of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

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