Friday, April 21, 2006

re:Fab tonight, Grant Park Earth Day on Saturday and some final thoughts on the AfH newStand competition

Tonight, Friday, at 7:30 P.M., Civic Blueprint will be sponsoring a benefit at Salvage One for Architecture for Humanity. And on Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to noon, you can join volunteers from Exelon Corporation and the Grant Park Advisory Council and Conservancy as they celebrate Earth Day by helping clean up one of Chicago's great civic treasures. (Watch out for the goose droppings.)

The Civic Blueprint event is scheduled to include the display of winning entries from Architecture for Humanity/Chicago's newStand competition. Back in March, I criticized the way the group announced the winners on AfH/Chicago website with no other mention of how the entries could be seen than a reference to the $75.00 a ticket Civic Blueprint benefit. A week later pictures of the entries were posted on the website. There have been a series of responses to my two posts on the topic, eloquent and impassioned, and for convenience I've compiled them all in the comments section of this post, along with my own (final?) thoughts on the responsibilities of running a competition.


Anonymous said...

(Anonymous post)
This really is discouraging... Since there was no price money to be awarded, exposure was one the main incentives to competing, (beyond the personal ethics and activism that probably was the motivation for most participants). It becomes even more disappointing since there was a $25 or $50 entry fee. With all the jurors are based instate (maybe even in Chicago) little of this fee would have been used to cover their travel & lodging expenses. Without knowing the exact number of entries, I have a hard time believing it was needed to fund the competition organization. The CAC’s latest competitions have been entry fee free and have drawn large numbers of entries, yet they have found a way to fund the organization, via co-sponsers.

While there are many justifications for hosting design competitions, exposing a current problem in society, deciding on the best proposal to build, establishing a dialog on an issue, etc. But making a buck of designers, who are eager to use their creativity on more provoking subjects than most find in practice, just seems unethical.

I didn't enter this competition on this reason...

Civic Blueprint said...

Civic Blueprint said...

As co-founders of Civic Blueprint, we would like to help to clear up some of this confusion about our re:FAB event.

Before the launch of the AFH Chicago newSTAND competition, a fundraising effort was underway for Architecture for Humanity’s national 501(c)3. This coincided with the founding of Civic Blueprint: an effort to enhance collaborations between the design community and nonprofit organizations, community groups, public schools and social service agencies. Inspired by the incredible international humanitarian work carried out by Architecture for Humanity, Civic Blueprint believes that the Chicago design profession could benefit from an organized methodology for working with underserved communities on a pro bono or low-cost basis. Funded by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a feasibility study began on how best to accomplish this mission.

While Civic Blueprint is sponsoring re:FAB on April 21st, all profits from the event will go towards Architecture for Humanity’s national organization.

After several months of planning re:FAB, we learned of AFH Chicago’s design competition and reached out to them to learn more about their efforts. We are pleased to be able to exhibit the winning entries at re:FAB but we believe that AFH Chicago has a responsibility to showcase the entries on their website as well.

Our goal for re:FAB remains the same: raise funds and awareness for the amazing work carried out by Architecture for Humanity and introduce Chicago to Civic Blueprints’ desire to help contribute to local community development efforts.

More information about the events taking place at re:FAB can be found at

AFHChicago said...

On behalf of all of us who have worked hard putting together the competition, the entrants, those that have been awarded, the jurors,
and the good name of Architecture For Humanity and Civic Blueprint, I apologize for the misconception of the motives behind the re:FAB
fundraising event or the newStand competition.

It has never been the intention of AFH Chicago or Civic Blueprint to use the fundraising event as an opportunity to gain money by
providing this as the only opportunity to view the submissions. The winners will be posted on the website by the end of the day. The
delay of this posting lies in my hands, and I regret the confusion and/or distrust this delay has caused. The fundraising event will not
be the only opportunity to see the submissions; those of awarded entrants or otherwise.

Also, please let me take this opportunity to reassure everyone that the entirety of money received from competition entrants was sent to
AFH. We have not requested the use of any of it for the purpose of our chapter. In fact, we pool together to pay for any of the minor
costs acquired by the creation of the competition and the functioning of our website. We will look into other ways of funding any future
competitions, as suggested in the previous blog response.

We created this competition for many reasons, most obviously the ones stated in the competition's description (also reiterated in Mr.
Becker's initial blog entry above). AFH Chicago was also looking for a way to gain recognition within our community, enticing community
members to become involved with our endeavors. Please remember all of our current and consistent members, of whom there are few, are
volunteers. We are fueled by the foundational beliefs of Architecture For Humanity, and as people that are new to non-profit work; we are
learning as we go. Thank you for cutting us some slack on our first competition. I'm proud of the work all of us have done, and hope that
this criticism does not perpetuate any distrust.

Once again, Civic Blueprint is graciously working with our chapter to help us further meet the needs of the competition. Their fundraiser
will serve as an additional opportunity to view the submissions, not the only one. Their group also consists of many hard-working
volunteers with only philanthropic intentions, in this case, raising money for Architecture For Humanity.

We invite all people to attend our meetings on the first Tuesday of every month (visit, the Chapter's site, for more
information). If there are concerns or questions (especially concerning the competition), please contact us directly at We would prefer the opportunity to address any concerns directly before causing unnecessary skepticism.

A special note to the Anonymous blog response: In the case that you are an entrant, I can assure you that our motivations are in perfect alignment with the ethics held true by Architecture For Humanity, and that any criticism raised does not reflect our true intent. I hope that my response here has made you (and others) feel comfortable submitting to our competition. We are very thankful
for the work put forth and desire to be involved.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond,
On behalf of AFH Chicago

Cameron Sinclair said...

You, as an established and respected design journalist, understand the way most competitions work. Finalists work is usually exhibited first, then within a day or so images are released online. This way you can celebrate the hard work of the designers in person and then make it public.

I believe the miscommunication arose from your suggestion that the two events were interlinked and the competition was nothing but a 'sideshow'. As you are now fully aware that the Civic Blueprint fundraiser is actually raising funds to help in the rebuilding on homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in addition to giving architects the opportunity to become involved in hands-on built projects. Note: the sister exhibition in Chicago of one of our clients, the Calhouns who we are supporting vie this benefit --

I, as co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, am extremely proud of local chapters. They are completely autonomous and growing chapters like Chicago, New York, Sydney and Minnesota have instigated projects that have raise the debate of public architecture and begun to implement local projects that make a difference.

Your post forced the hand of a small volunteer led group to upload images, when they are trying to hold down day jobs. Had you emailed, called or even returned my phone message then you may have given an opportunity to explain how they were going to present images. Rather you suggested their efforts were "less about promoting superior architecture than serving as a sideshow in a fundraising campaign."

We should be celebrating all the hard work all the entrants and organisers put into working on this project and supporting their efforts to create better public space in the great city of Chicago. Additionally perhaps you would be willing to support the Civic Blueprint benefit as it is a great opportunity to hear a New Orleans band, bid on local artwork and for Chicagos' design industry, including its' media, to support the rebuilding efforts on the Gulf Coast.

Cameron Sinclair
Executive Director, Architecture for Humanity.

Anonymous said...

The following response will most definitely be hostile in nature:

I stand behind any of the intentions of Architecture for Humanity Chicago and its volunteers. This organization seems very grassroots but, hey, results don't come overnight and it take money and politics to get things done. I applaude this organization for having the courage and patience to confront such a difficult challenge. Yeah, I was one of the winners know what?.....I'm happy that architects/human beings actually responded to this competition. If you want exposure for your work, start your own website! Make a book! But don't make ignorant accusations! Where is 'your' humanity (Mr./Mrs. Architect?)
I have no doubt that AFH Chicago will refine its methods as it learns more and matures. Lets remember what 'humanity' and 'spirit' actually mean. Lets support AFH Chicago for their integrity.
Here's a jeer to mindless assumption. Rock on, AFH.

Joseph Tran said...

The party is tomorrow. Lets give AFH Chicago the support it deserves and help it as it continues to mature.

Lynn Becker said...

I haven't responded to any posts, letting the discussion stand for itself, but now I would like to do a bit of responding, myself.

1. I have the greatest respect for the work done by Architecture for Humanity, and the greatest hope for the future efforts of Civic Blueprint.
2. In response to Mr. Sinclair's comments:
a. No, it's not my job - or the job of any journalist - to try to decipher if an organization's statements are what they really mean to say. A website is like a press release, and when the only reference to viewing competition winners on that site is to a paid fundraiser it is more than fair to comment on what was actually published, not investigate what was omitted.
b. Mr. Sinclair states, "Your post forced the hand of a small volunteer led group to upload images, when they are trying to hold down day jobs." News flash: pretty much ALL competitions are run by volunteers, and pretty much ALL of them hold down day jobs, that, as most any architect will tell you, tend to turn into all-nighter jobs more than they'd like. It is definitely NOT easy - the post from Breena from AFH Chicago lays it all out very eloquently, but I would ask you this, Mr. Sinclair - when your volunteers build a house, is it okay if they leave off a wall because they all hold down day jobs, as well? Compared to repairing the carnage caused by Katrina, an architectural competition seem trivial by comparison, but if you choose to sponsor a competition, it must be taken just as seriously.
c. I apologize for not returning Mr. Sinclair's call, but in my defense I would add that the message left on my machine was from a line (cellphone? VOIP?) that was so bad it came through as little more than a series of squawks, which I was unable to deciper until after seeing Mr. Sinclair's post.
3. An anonymous post from one of award winner's stated, "If you want exposure for your work, start your own website!" I couldn't disagree more. I have seen way too much interesting and exiting work remain unseen. And no, it's not about stroking the architect's ego (although, especially in the case of competition with no cash prizes, I can't really see getting a little promotion as a venal sin.) It's about exposing fresh ideas to the broadest possible public, in order to have a shot at turning at least some of them into reality. It's quite possible I may have missed it (and if so, please correct me), but in searching their websites, I can find no reference to the newStand competition in either of Chicago's dailies. This represents a tremendous waste.

Anyone who follows my writings knows I'm often very hard on Chicago institutions' generally poor use of the web - AfH shouldn't take it personally - and my motivation is not to vent but to goad. The web is invaluable in putting work before as many people as possible, in Chicago, in the U.S, and throughout the world. It is not an afterthought - it's the main event.

4. The challenge isn't just a matter of staffing, but of technology and standards. When someone sponsors a competition, one of the key requirements needs to be that the material on the boards - especially the text- is provided in standardized digital format that can be easily repurposed for the web. Workarounds are better than nothing. Often, JPG's let you see the renderings but leave the text, which is often essential to the understanding of the entry, unreadable. The Chicago Architectural Club is using the very web-unfriendly format of Powerpoint to present the Phase 01 finalists in its current Burnham Prize competition - you have to download the file, and a larger part of the general public probably doesn't have Powerpoint or the Powerpoint player - but the saving grace is that you can actually read all of the text on the boards, even you have to zoom in at 400%.

5.Along with Breena's post, that from Joseph Tran may be the best, and I second his thought: "Lets give AFH Chicago the support it deserves and help it as it continues to mature."

Stacey said...

"Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a f***load of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and
forgiving and accepting, but, Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes."
-Dave Eggers, *The Harvard Advocate*