Winning Awards: A Judge's Guide To Successful Architecture Submissions

April 9, 2023

Tyler Suomala

Founder of Growthitect

This past week, I had the honor of judging the 11th annual Architizer A+ awards.

I spent several evenings reviewing and ranking submissions for 8 different categories of work.

And it took me back to my own hopeful awards submissions of the past. It’s SO HARD to win awards for your work, right?

Many architects struggle to put together a compelling application that effectively conveys their accomplishments and unique approach to a project. You’re unsure about what to include in the application, how to showcase your work in the best possible light, or how to make your submission stand out from the hundreds of others that the judges will review.

Understandably, awards can be a source of frustration. You put in a tremendous amount of work and effort into your projects, only to have their submissions overlooked or rejected. And while we don’t necessarily do architecture for the awards, failing to win awards for your work can be demotivating.

So why not dive deeper into the perspective of a judge while my thoughts are still fresh? Because while all of the work was incredible, the presentation of the work itself varied greatly. And when it comes to awards, the presentation makes all the difference.

Here’s 3 things you can do to improve your submission:

01 // Address the criteria directly

Something that becomes immediately clear is whether or not a firm chose to read the requirements and adjust their submission accordingly. It’s obvious if a firm does a simple copy + paste of the project description from their website versus a firm that explains how and/or why the project addresses the evaluation criteria.

Take the time to read through the submission guidelines and make sure you understand exactly what the judges are looking for.

For example, I was asked to judge projects based on three criteria - form, function, and impact. Some descriptions were more indirect in their relation to the criteria, forcing me to read between the lines. Others addressed each criteria directly and explained how the project responded to each, which made it much easier to evaluate. By being more direct, firms are able to better control the conversation and thought process of the judges.

Focus on highlighting the aspects of your work that align with the award criteria.

For example, if the award is focused on sustainable design, make sure you include information on the sustainability features of your project and how they impact the environment. If the award is focused on community impact, be sure to highlight the ways in which your project positively impacted the surrounding community. Heck, throw in a quote from an end user of the project just to really bring home the impact!

02 // Activate images with people

Architecture ultimately serves people and society. So while images of the building itself are important, photos that show how people interact with and use the space are more impactful.

Sure, this is my personal opinion but there’s also some science behind it. It’s a little known marketing secret that images with people convert better in most situations.

Images that show occupied spaces help judges understand the human impact of your work.

It can also help them understand how the space is used and how it meets the needs of its users. Bonus points if the image is powerful enough to welcome the viewer in and allow them to imagine being in the space.

In general, I found myself more drawn to images of architecture that were activated by people.

03 // Tell a story

It's important to consider the order of your visual material. Rather than simply grouping together similar drawings and images, think about the narrative and story you want to tell.

Stories oscillate between different feelings and emotions to hold our attention.

They have a beginning, middle, and end. They need context. They need characters. Maybe even heroes, villains, and sidekicks.

It might make more sense to sprinkle drawings in between photos of the spaces that they represent, for example. Perhaps the images of the building’s context would be best suited towards the end because the story begins within a small interior.

By being thoughtful and deliberate with the order, you lead the judges through an engaging story of your project so they can appreciate the thought and care that went into its design and execution.


Awards are hard to win. But there are some things that you can do to better capture the attention of the judges.

  1. Address the criteria directly so that the judges can easily evaluate.

  2. Activate images with people because they are better at capturing attention.

  3. Tell a story with a thoughtful order of visual material.

And don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t win. The true measure of project success is determined by the people that occupy the architecture every day, not some remote judge with a killer newsletter 😉

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