After spending some time on their website, I couldn't help but to send my grievances directly to them. See below.
To whom it may concern,
I stumbled across your service while reading some articles on the matter and I must say that I am utterly appalled by what you are attempting to do. I am a licensed architect with a small practice in Illinois. Many of my projects are of a small scale not to dissimilar from what is included on your competition postings. I can tell you from my own personal experience that the kind of design you are advocating is no different than the garbage shown on reality TV "design" programs. (I had the unfortunate circumstance to stumble upon a production of one of those shows where the "interior designer" was advocating remodeling an illegally screened-in porch in poor condition, whereas I would have immediately advocated to raze the addition rather than pour a penny into it.)
I deal with a multitude of client types. Some are more sophisticated, others require much more hand holding. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace the ability to communicate with a client directly. The insights I can gain in a 1 hour initial, free consultation vastly surpass your alternative of essentially throwing up a bunch of ideas to see what sticks. The notion that crowd sourcing is somehow better because you get many different ideas instead of just one is just plain false. I offer a minimum of 3 design alternatives on small projects. For larger, more complex projects I tell my clients that I will design until they are satisfied - all at a fixed price.
I also take issue with the notion that the designer does not have to see the site. I have never worked on a project where I have not first gone to the site or existing building. I take my own measurements because as the design professional I know what is the important information and I can trust the accuracy. The difference between your competitions and international design competitions is that the clients for international design competitions have no intention to use competition submission boards to get building permits or to build anything.
What exactly do you do about code compliance, zoning issues and life safety issues? In some of the projects it is not even clear where they are located. I saw one design winning submission with a suspiciously low slope roof. I saw another competition for a bathroom expansion / remodel on a tight budget, but what about the adequacy of the water service. How exactly does a designer from some other part of the world know construction means and methods or where the project is located. (Again, I have done some minor design work in Poland, but only in collaboration with technically experienced local professionals) I have seen more than one of your competitions where the client is essentially asking for construction ready plans. Your own Client FAQ suggests that clients simply need to take the designs to their contractor.
My final issue is the picture you paint for the profession. I work on small projects, and I have found a way to be successful doing it. My fees are in line with my competition. My clients are generally very satisfied with my work. Despite the recession, I have been able to keep the doors open and put food on the table. Design is not a charity, nor a right. You state that one of the big benefits is that it is less expensive for your clients. How exactly? That they should pay for incomplete, possibly harmful design solutions, that may be of no use at all. And at what cost, so that our future designers learn that their creativity is only valued if the client agrees.
I do applaud your desire to give an opportunity to young designers. However, perhaps you should have focused your energies on teaching them how to ethically and successfully run a small-project practice. Fortunately, in Illinois, most building projects require an architectural seal for construction. I will be strongly advocating for similar rules elsewhere in light of your service and other similar crowdsourcing services.
Thomas Budzik AIA
T B Architecture, PC
Prospect Hts IL
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