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The Design Competition Conference


Sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Van Alen Institute

Conference Co-Chairs:
Jerold S. Kayden, Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design
David van der Leer, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute

Design competitions are increasingly used to procure the design of, well,
just about anything. Governments, philanthropies, advocacy organizations, developers, and even celebrities are offering ever-larger awards and visibility for buildings, landscapes, and products, as well as for solutions to complex economic, social, and ecological problems. Competitions can mobilize thousands of talented people across disciplines to creatively tackle pressing challenges in publicized—if not public— settings. They can also be wasteful, less-than-fully transparent, and even exploitative.

The Design Competition Conference will review the state of design competitions today and their impact on competitors, sponsors, design, and the public interest. Using the lens of professional, ethical, business, legal, aesthetic, and public policy perspectives, we’ll ask: do competitions enhance creativity and excellence in the production of built and landscape environments? Do they advance the skills and interests of the designers who participate in the process? Does the public get to participate and benefit? Do they make for better financial outcomes and, if so, for whom? Are they an ethical method for securing design given the mechanics of the process? Do competitions strengthen or weaken the design professions as a whole? Do they identify new talent? These and other questions will emerge through discussion of cases studies and thematic presentations.

This event is free and open to the public.

For accessibility accommodations, please contact the events office two weeks in advance at (617) 496-2414 or events@gsd.harvard.edu.


Download full conference program


6:30pm – 8:00pm  Keynote Panel

Welcome from Conference Co-Chairs:
Jerold S. Kayden | Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design
David van der Leer | Executive Director, Van Alen Institute

Craig Dykers | Founding Partner, Snøhetta
Francine Houben | Creative Director, Mecanoo
Mohsen Mostafavi | Dean, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Cathleen McGuigan | Editor-In-Chief, Architectural Record 

FRIDAY, APRIL 24, 2015

9:00am – 9:45am  Opening Remarks

Introducing the key themes and questions for the day’s discussions, this
opening session looks at how competitions can inspire such wildly different opinions—including those from over 1,400 designers who responded to a recent survey—and what they indicate about the state of contemporary design practice.

Framing Design Competitions
Jerold S. Kayden | Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design

The Architectural Record/Van Alen Institute Design Competition Survey: Findings
David van der Leer | Executive Director, Van Alen Institute

9:45am – 11:00am  Design Competitions Now

Designers, government officials, community advocates, and critics discuss four recent design competitions that have tested the boundaries of what competitions can be and what it means for design, planning, and the public interest.

Case Study I: Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition
Marshall Brown | Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology, School of Architecture
Cara Cragan | Studio Leader, Rockwell Group

Case Study II: Rebuild By Design
Scott Davis | Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Gena Wirth | Principal, SCAPE

Reed Kroloff, Principal, jones | kroloff

11:00am – 11:15am  Break

11:15am – 12:30pm  Design Competitions Now (continued)

Case Study III: 11th Street Bridge Park Design Competition
Scott Kratz | Director, 11th Street Bridge Park Project
David Smith | Executive Director, The Pearl Coalition

Case Study IV: Connect Kendall Square
Taha Jennings | Assistant to the City Manager, City of Cambridge
Inga Saffron | Architecture Critic, Philadelphia Inquirer

Jerome Chou | Director of Competitions, Van Alen Institute

12:30pm – 12:45pm  Announcement of the Winners of the Harvard GSD
Francis Loeb Library/Design Competitions Course Design Competition

12:45pm – 1:45pm  Break

1:45pm – 3:15pm  The World Beyond: Competitions for Everything?

Beyond the field of design, competitions have helped create a private space industry, develop new vaccines, and captivate millions of people through reality television shows. Should everything be a competition? From soup to nuts, can competitions produce better ideas and objects, unearth talent, and educate the public? What can designers learn from the world of competitions beyond design?

Bill Aulet, Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, MIT Sloan School of Management
Nidhi Chaudhary | Vice President of Challenge Success, HeroX
Jenn Gustetic, Assistant Director for Open Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Jerold S. Kayden, David van der Leer

3:15pm – 3:30pm  Break

3:30pm – 5:00pm  The Future of Design Competitions

The closing panel will debate issues and critiques raised during the conference and suggest visions and amendments for the future place and administration of competitions.

Silvia Benedito, Assistant Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Marshall Brown,  Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology, School of Architecture
Stephen Cassell, Partner, Architecture Research Office
Reed Kroloff, Principal, jones | kroloff
Grace La, Principal, LA DALLMAN / Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Susanna Sirefman, Founder, Dovetail Design Strategists

Jerold S. Kayden, David van der Leer

5:00pm – 5:15pm  Closing Remarks

Jerold S. Kayden
David van der Leer


Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

Bill Aulet, a serial entrepreneur, is the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup. He is the founder of the MIT Clean Energy Prize as well as an adviser to the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

Assistant Professor, Harvard GSD

Silvia Benedito is an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the co-coordinator of the Master in Design Studies in Art, Design and the Public Domain. Benedito’s research examines the role of atmosphere and the making of microclimates for human comfort and delight.

Associate Professor, IIT School of Architecture

Marshall Brown is a registered architect and Associate Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He has permanently retired from design competitions. Brown recently penned an essay on the Obama Presidential Library for Metropolis, and has forthcoming exhibitions at the Arts Club of Chicago and Western Exhibitions Gallery in 2016.

Stephen Cassell, Executive Committee Member
Principal & Co-Founder, Architecture Research Office

Stephen Cassell is principal and co-founder, with Adam Yarinsky, of Architecture Research Office, a New York-based firm practicing modern architecture and visionary urbanism. The practice has completed more than seventy-five projects nationwide for clients such as Goldman Sachs, Princeton University, Prada, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The firm’s portfolio of work includes civic, academic, commercial, residential, and conceptual architecture.

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Vice President of Challenge Success, HeroX

Nidhi Chaudhary is the Vice President of Challenge Success at HeroX, a spinoff of XPRIZE, where she is building a technology platform for open innovation, crowd-sourcing, and incentive challenges. As a facilitator and a strategist, she has worked for nearly 15 years at the intersection of social entrepreneurship, design thinking, and international development.

Director of Competitions, Van Alen Institute

Jerome Chou is an urban planner, landscape architect, and community organizer. He developed dozens of temporary installations, events, and workshops at Flint Public Art Project in Flint, Michigan. At the Design Trust for Public Space, he led projects to retain garment factories in Midtown Manhattan and to expand urban agriculture throughout New York City.

Studio Leader, Rockwell Group

Cara Cragan is a Studio Leader with Rockwell Group. She previously served as Director of Architectural Projects, Abu Dhabi and Helsinki, with the Guggenheim Foundation where her responsibilities included overseeing the groundbreaking architectural competition for a proposed Guggenheim museum in Helsinki. Cragan has a BA from Vassar and received her M. Arch I from Yale.

Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Scott Davis currently serves as a Senior Advisor in the Office of Community Planning and Development at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Recently serving as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Secretary and on the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, he helped lead Rebuild by Design: A Design Competition for Increasing Resilience in the Sandy Region.

Craig Dykers
Founding Partner, Snøhetta

Craig Dykers is a Founding Partner of the international design practice, Snøhetta. His interest in design as a promoter of social and physical well-being is supported by ongoing observation and contributes to the development of an innovative design process.

Craig has led many of Snøhetta’s prominent projects internationally, including the Alexandria Library in Egypt, the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway, the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York City, and the recently completed Ryerson University Student Learning Centre in Toronto, Canada.

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Assistant Director for Open Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Jenn Gustetic is the Assistant Director for Open Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where she scales the use of open innovation approaches like prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science. Previously, Gustetic was NASA’s Prizes and Challenges Program Executive. She holds a BS in aerospace engineering from the University of Florida and a SM in technology policy from MIT.

Francine Houben
Architect/Creative Director, Mecanoo

Francine Houben (b. 1955) began to formulate the three fundamental concepts of her architectural vision whilst studying at the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands. Designing primarily for People, constructing spaces that are relevant to Place, and forging connections that give a building Purpose have remained consistent, underlying values to Mecanoo’s practice over the past three decades.

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Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts

Taha Jennings is Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Cambridge Massachusetts and has also held positions of Neighborhood Planner and Project Planner in the City’s Community Development Department. Jennings has a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and a Master’s of City and Regional Planning from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard GSD

Jerold S. Kayden is the Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design An urban planner and lawyer, he teaches and writes about land-use law, real estate development, and public space. This spring, he is teaching for the second time a course on design competitions.

Principal, jones | kroloff

Reed Kroloff is the founding principal of jones|kroloff, a practice that develops architecture strategy and guides architect selection processes. Kroloff was previously the Director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum, Dean of the Tulane University School of Architecture, and Editor-in-Chief of Architecture.

Director, 11th Street Bridge Park

Scott Kratz is the Director of the 11th Street Bridge Park, a collaboration between the non-profit Building Bridges Across the River at THEARC and the Washington D.C. Office of Planning that is transforming an old freeway bridge into a park above the Anacostia River.

Principal, LA DALLMAN and Professor of Architecture, Harvard GSD

Grace La is Professor of Architecture and Director of the M.Arch Programs at the Harvard Graduates School of Design and Principal of LA DALLMAN. LA DALLMAN was named an Emerging Voice by the Architectural League of NY (2010) and was the first U.S. practice to receive the Rice Design Alliance Prize (2011).

Executive Director, Van Alen Institute

David van der Leer is an urban thinker and activator and the Executive Director of Van Alen Institute in New York City. Previously, he was associate curator of architecture and urban studies at the Guggenheim Museum and curator for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a mobile urban laboratory that traveled to New York, Berlin, and Mumbai.

Editor-In-Chief, Architectural Record

Cathleen McGuigan is Editor-In-Chief of Architectural Record. She is a graduate of Brown University. She was awarded a Loeb Fellowship from the Harvard GSD and was a Poynter Fellow at Yale. She sits on the boards of the Skyscraper Museum, the Center for Architecture New York, and the Alumni Council of the Harvard GSD.

Mohsen Mostafavi

Mohsen Mostafavi, an architect and educator, is the Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He was formerly the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University. Previously, he was the Chairman of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Dean Mostafavi serves on the steering committee of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the board of the Van Alen Institute, and on numerous university committees including the Harvard University Committee on the Arts, as well as the Committee on Common Spaces.

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Architecture Critic, Philadelphia Inquirer

Inga Saffron is the architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She received the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism in 2014 and was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2011-12. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, Landscape Architecture Magazine, and Metropolis.

Susanna Sirefman

Dovetail Design Strategists is the leading independent architect selection firm in the United States servicing developers, civic, cultural and educational institutions looking for world-class architecture and design excellence.  Dovetail’s founder, Susanna Sirefman, is trained as an architect and draws from extensive knowledge of the latest design and building trends and unmatched access to both emerging and acclaimed talent in the architecture field.  Dovetail’s signature methodology and competitive selection process, tailored to each project, thoughtfully leads its clients to inspired architect shortlists and winning designs as they prepare for growth and enhanced visibility.  

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Executive Director, The Pearl Coalition

David Smith is the Executive Director of The Pearl Coalition, currently working to build the “Spirit of the Pearl” schooner, Washington, DC’s historic and first tall ship. David has worked for over 20 years in multiple leadership roles ranging from business innovation and creative economy to environmental conservation and green technologies..

Principal, SCAPE

Gena Wirth is a designer, urban planner, and horticulturalist. As a design principal at SCAPE, she pulls from her interdisciplinary training to create ecologically rich and culturally relevant landscapes from the infrastructural scale to the site level. She was trained at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is currently the 2015 Richard Gluckman Visiting Critic in Design at the Syracuse University School of Architecture.