This article has two aims. On the one hand, I want to clarify the use of architectural quality as a key concept used by architects. That is, I want to look at this notion from a professional perspective. The use of quality terms, the design, and the way architecture is judged all depend on one another. On the other hand, I examine how architectural quality is tested for and verified in practice. As a typical example, I look at how a jury in an architectural competition arrives at a decision on a winning entry. The jury has to identify the best solution for the task-a prize-winning design -and only one entry can be chosen. In the decision-making process, quality is strongly connected with values, and behind this thinking lays the assumption that good and bad solutions are manifest in the design. The assumption by the architects, again, is that a professional eye can detect quality in a design.
Seventeen professionals with first-hand competition experience were interviewed for this research. Among them were representatives of an architect's organization, the competition organizers, and the competitors. These interviewees were selected based on their professional expertise and skill in judging architectural competition entries.
From the interviews, we gain a good picture of how the concept of quality in design is understood in practice. The concept has different meanings, and appears to be ambiguous and even confusing. As is typical of practitioners, professional architects combine an aesthetic and artistic perspective with technical and practical points of view. We see a genuine uncertainty prevailing in the field of architectural design: there is no single answer to the questions of architectural quality issues, but instead, in architectural and urban design proposals there are always several good solutions to be recognized.
In architectural competitions, the jury's task is to select the best proposal among the entries submitted--and to single out one winner. Disagreement over the final decision is seen as a failure for the jury. In case of divergence of opinion among the jury members, the competition might result in that the winning entry is not built. Competence and consensus are therefore two key factors in making the jury feel comfortable with the final selection of winners in architectural competitions. Consequently, the architects sitting in a jury must be professionals, with a good judgment in quality issues.
Borås, 2007. Vol. 9, no 1, 23-42 p.
Architecture, Architectural competition, Architectural quality, Quality issues, Quality judgment, Judgment practice