Monday, May 25, 2009

Vision Dallas: A Brief Note on the Jury’s First Day

The first day of the jury is over, and I thought I’d post a brief note. The day was both exhausting and exhilarating. There were 90 qualified entrants for the project (just a few were disqualified for gross violations of the rules—the folks at Re:Vision were generous in letting entries go to the jury). There was also one last minute substitution on the jury—Cameron from Architecture for Humanity was called away on a project, so Nathaniel Corum, author of Building a Straw Bale House, filled in admirably for him.

Nathaniel is an interesting man (he’s in the center with his back to the camera of the two jury photos here). He’s spent much of the last several years working to improve housing on Indian Reservations in South Dakota, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico—mostly straw bale houses. The newest technique he is pioneering is tilt-wall straw bale houses—he could explain (especially with drawings), I can’t in a short essay. But it’s radical, innovative work.

The pictures of the jury don’t show very much, but the day was grueling. Trying to review ninety entries is an overwhelming task. Many of the entries had not only the six pictorial boards called for by the competition rules, but also as many as twenty or thirty pages of supporting material. There were charts, graphs, spreadsheets and other types of graphical representations as well. Even working ten hours, that meant reviewing a new submission every five to seven minutes.

The jury worked by projecting the projects on a large wall screen so that every one could see them. A number of projects were quickly eliminated, usually for one of two reasons. If a project wasn’t well designed (I would have said if it were ugly), then it wouldn’t advance. If a project wasn’t buildable, then it also wouldn’t advance. Sometimes that was immediately obvious. Sometimes only by reviewing the supporting material was it possible to know if the designer had done sufficient work to indicate that something that might have looked improbable could be built.

Of course there were a few outliers. Projects that were well beyond budget or that did something other than what we had asked for in the contest rules—but, as allowed, made an argument that even though it wasn’t what we had envisioned, it was a better approach.

Finally we had the entrants whittled down to about thirty, our goal for the day. A few of the more unusual ideas that entrants proposed were sent with someone as homework so that the most expert juror in that area could try to assess whether the idea proposed really worked. Then the jury adjourned and went to dinner.

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