Competition: creativity, en masse

By: Charlie Deese
8 September 2016

It seems a bit contradictory, the idea of competition benefiting more than just a “winner.” Well, architecturally, it has been a tradition. Large commissions competed for among rival firms. Educational communities rallying around an architectural or cultural ideal. An exploration of your own capabilities. While competitions are nothing new to the field, rarely are they implemented internally.

G5_logo rev3Despite it being a total team effort to design a building, much of the early creativity work is molded from one person’s interpretation of a client’s ideas and vision. Here at CTA, we are doing what we can to buck that trend. Just by our nature as an architecture AND engineering firm, we take an integrated approach to design by bringing all disciplines and all ideas into the fold early in the process. But that is not enough. As a firm of 400+, any project team includes a few architects but traditionally only one design architect. We continually ask ourselves how we can tap into the greater whole. In response, we have developed a culture of inclusion through regular, open, creative sessions; and with information and experiences shared across offices through an internal social media hub. For one recent client, we took this a step further.

Enter the G5 Brewing Company of Beloit, WI. A legacy project for a family of five in their hometown, they tasked CTA to design a brewing facility with an attached restaurant and bar. Pulling from their time spent on family vacations, the vibe was to be Midwest industrial meets backwoods. The CTA Kalispell team helped the G5 team develop a building program and provided a few initial concepts and layouts. After this conceptual design stage, a project would normally narrow in scope as led by a core design team. With G5, we decided to tap into the creativity of the ENTIRE FIRM. The vehicle for doing so: a competition!

With only minor direction, CTA was set loose. The idea was to eliminate any one person’s bias so as to generate as many unique ideas as possible. After a month, several office charrettes on the subject had been staged and a pool of eight official competition entries was narrowed down to a winner. Just two weeks ago, the client selected designs created by CTA Austin AIT Sarah Holnbeck. While Sarah was officially the winner of the competition and will join me for the eventual ribbon cutting at the opening of the brewpub, every idea brought forth was valuable and many will be carried into the final design. Even the participants who did not win have gained firm-wide recognition for their talents and have found themselves tapped (pun intended) for other cool, inter-office work. With three children spread across the country, the competition also allowed the client’s entire family to leave their imprint on the project. Amidst wedding planning, the family came together to brainstorm the direction of the project while reviewing competition submissions and selecting the winner.

In the end, this exercise meant generation of more ideas and more fun for both our clients and ourselves. Trite as it may sounds, despite how important the destination – our finished work – can be, it’s the journey that creates relationships with clients that we always hope become our long-term friends. It’s the way we do business, and it’s always been a major differentiator for CTA.


Sarah Holnbeck’s winning submittal:

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