How the WAF awards are judged

4 - 6 December 2019, RAI Amsterdam

WAF judging

Below you will find a simple guide to the judging process for WAF intended to help entrants understand how the entire WAF entry process works. We also provide some simple guidance on presenting your entry in the way most likely to attract the judges.

In respect of what makes a good design, we cite a document written for the UK’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment which you can view here.

Stage 1 – shortlisting

  • Shortlisting takes place shortly after the entry period closes at the end of May.
  • We assemble a group of architects and other professionals with experience of WAF as entrants, winners, speakers and judges.
  • We split the judges into pairs, who judge a series of categories over a period of several hours.
  • The judges are asked by the organizers to shortlist a set number of entries for each category, usually between 40 and 50 per cent of the number submitted.
  • They make their choices on the basis of their experience, and with the general intention of picking the entries that are good example of architecture in the round, that is to say well conceived, well designed and well presented, and which lift the spirits. Like any judges, they will be interested in whether the work gives to (or at worst takes from) its context.
  • In the event of any query regarding eligibility or the category entered, the judges refer to the programme director for a decision. In general, the organizers try to ensure than any entry is in the category where it is most likely to do well.
  • The programme director and curator review all non-shortlisted entries and may add some to the shortlist – but never remove anything. This helps to ensure an even spread of quality across the shortlisted entries.

Advice to entrants

  • Ensure that your boards are well designed, legible and coherent. Judges should not have to squint at tiny text, or wonder why there is no site plan or other relevant drawing. The boards should tell the story of the project as idea and completed design -- even where (in the case of a future project) it may not yet have started on site.
  • Avoid odd-shaped pairs of boards (e.g. one vertical, one horizontal). While not prohibited, from observation they rarely impress judges.
  • Avoid over-sized boards. We try to be generous but potentially they may be excluded from judging.
  • Avoid if possible picking a pair of boards from a three or four board presentation. It is usually fairly obvious, and it almost inevitably means there is useful information that does not appear.

Stage 2 -- category judging at the Festival

•    All shortlisted architects have to present their designs in ten-minute slots at the Festival, followed by questions and answers.
•    Three-person judging panels decide the category winners, and may also make high commendations if they choose – where it has been really tough to make a final decision.
•    We try to ensure that panels have appropriate experience to judge their category; for example we use category winners from the previous year, magazine editors with extensive experience, and high-quality designers capable of responding to excellent design well presented.
•    Judges are obliged to pick a winner in each category.
•    Judges are not entitled to question eligibility or category choice, and must refer to the organizers in the event of any query.
•    Each panel has a chair, who is responsible for completing a form in respect of the winner and any highly commended entry. This states briefly what the judges particularly admired in respect of their choice, and provides the comments that are used on the WAF/INSIDE website, and in press releases.
•    Judges do not ‘score’ presentations and are not asked to provide formal feedback in respect of individual presentations, not least because they may have viewed up to 16 presentations and are required to make reasonably prompt decisions on what they liked best and why.

Advice to shortlisted entrants

•    Ensure you have rehearsed your presentation in advance.
•    Don’t spend too much time setting the scene – make sure you allow sufficient time to present what it is you have designed.
•    Stick to time – judges are under instruction to be very strict and are likely to cut you off after ten minutes. This is to ensure fairness to all entrants, not because they are being difficult.
•    Don’t assume that if you did not win the judges did not like what you designed – they almost certainly simply found more to admire in another entry.
•    Try to answer questions succinctly – the more questions you answer during your session the better it is likely to be.

Stage 3 – super-jury presentations

•    Super-juries are generally bigger than category juries, comprising four or five jurors, including a chair.
•    By definition there will not be specialists covering the range of specialist buildings that have reached the ‘finals’.
•    However, for this judging stage the requirement is not simply to be a good example of a building that functions well, but outstanding in one or more respects.
•    Overall award winners should be examples of architecture that is not simply good of its type, but is good by any standard. At its best, it could be architecture that either makes you think differently about a building type, or that makes you think differently about architecture as a whole, or is simply a superb example of a particular building type in its context.
•    Super-juries are particularly interested in why design decisions have been made, since they can assume a level of quality in respect of detail and delivery. In a sense it is the quality of architectural thought that is being assessed.
•    Again there is no ‘tick-box’ marking; the judges make their own notes and confer. The chair reports the positive factors in the winning design that made it successful, and these comments are used in media publicity for the award.
•    There are no highly commended, since each presentation will be of a design that is already a category winner.

Advice on super-jury presentations

•    You have already won you category so don’t be too nervous!
•    Focus on the architectural intention and thinking behind your project, not just how you met functional requirements.
•    You might cite architectural precedents.
•    Don’t forget to mention any particular challenges you may have overcome in the achievement of your design.
•    The input of other designers or the client is worth mentioning where relevant (i.e. successful collaboration).
•    Any information about outcomes is useful (obviously unlikely to be relevant to future projects).
•    How the projects fits into its context, and how it addresses environmental and energy issues are well worth mentioning. 

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