Winning 101: Secrets of Winning Revealed! by Mary Fitch, AICP, Hon. AIA, Executive Director, Washington Chapter/AIA Over the years, the staff has looked at thousands of entries for both the Washingtonian and Chapter Awards competitions. We offer the following observations about what makes for winning portfolios. 1. Ten-Second Rule. Consider that the Architecture category in last year's Chapter Awards had more that a hundred submissions. A jury has little time to devote to each entry—probably more than ten seconds, but not a lot more. It's critical that your portfolio be clear and well designed so that the jury will put it aside to look at more carefully in the second round. 2. A picture's worth a thousand words – and then some. Good photography is critical to a winning entry. The Chapter has many fine photographers among its members (including Anice Hoachlander, Alan Karchmer, Assoc. AIA, Robert Lautman and Boris Feldbyum). Big pictures are better than small, and glossies are a lot better than color xeroxes. If you've done your own photography, consider getting enlargements rather than using the standard 4” x 6” prints. If your project is a renovation, make sure you have a “before” photo. 3. Less is more. Although the jury will probably concentrate on images, a clear, concise description of your project can be very compelling. In his award-winning portfolio for the Hanson-Scianella residence, Mark McInturff, FAIA, describes the project in one paragraph that starts with a good line: “This project involved a ranch house and an eraser.” Think carefully about what you want to say and stay lean. Avoid using “Archi-speak;” even another architect doesn't want to read that "the volumetric proportion of this space gives it a transformative quality..." Think simple—think ten seconds! 4. Less is more, Part 2. Don't put in a lot of drawings just because you are proud of them. Make sure they work to tell the story. A site plan, floor plans, and a location map are all you really need; supplement only if a drawing helps convey why your design is extraordinary. 5. Tell a story. Think about the best way to introduce your design; don't just throw the pictures together. You may want to start your portfolio with an interesting detail shot, so that the juror will want to turn the page and see the rest of the house. If the “before” shot is really scary, start with that. Make them want to turn the page. Put the pictures in an order that works to your advantage. It gets really old to see portfolio after portfolio with an “information dump” and little organization. 6. Neatness counts. It's okay to reuse portfolios you submitted to other competitions, but tear off the stickers and dust off the sleeves! Give it a good once-over before you re-submit. 7. Follow the directions. Once you've completed your portfolio, get out the Call for Entries again and make sure you have addressed each requirement. Make sure you get the number of digital photos at the right dpi on your CD. The staff is going to call you if it isn't right and disqualify the entry if it isn't changed. You will also be assessed an administrative fee; so be careful, don’t let this happen to you. 8. Use our resources. The Chapter's Resource Center includes winning binders from 1994 forward. It's always informative to see how other winners have designed their portfolios. In addition, the staff can provide some useful advice and help. 9. Caveat Emptor: These observations are based on past juries, and every jury is different. The next one might like lots of theory and find your dusty binders to be a bold interpretive statement!
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