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BSA News

Jun 15, 2023

Design Awards Submissions Are Open: Three Key Changes for 2023

BSA Gala P Mc Whorter 8 1000px

Photo by Paige McWhorter.

As BSA Design Awards submissions open for 2023, the program now initiates three key changes: reorganizing award categories; embracing the Common Application for Design Excellence, or Common App; and using a two-stage, two-jury selection procedure.

How the Categories Have Changed

Historically, the BSA has annually offered seven to eight individual rotating categories that often focused on project types, such as K–12 Educational Facilities and Residential Design. To streamline the process, the BSA is compressing these categories into three awards—Built Design Excellence, Small Firms, and Unbuilt Planning and Design—to allow people to submit any relevant projects within these categories.

Two other awards, the Harleston Parker Medal and Harleston Parker People’s Choice, round out the categories, to total five:

  1. Built Design Excellence—recognizing measured design excellence through performance metrics in all completed projects.
  2. Small Firms—recognizing design excellence through performance narratives in all completed projects. Eligible for firms of 10 or fewer employees.
  3. Unbuilt Planning and Design—recognizing the promise of design excellence in the broadest possible range of research, conceptual exploration, and innovation in design thinking for initiated and theoretical projects.
  4. Harleston Parker Medal—recognizing the most beautiful piece of architecture, building, monument, or structure completed in the past 10 years within the city or Metropolitan Parks District limits.
  5. Harleston Parker People’s Choice—by public vote, recognizing the most beautiful Harleston Parker medal finalists.

For the Harleston Parker Medal, firms nominate a building to be considered, and a jury of 10 architects, engineers, city officials, and media determines the finalists, with one winning the medal. This year marks the award’s centennial year; read more on the medal’s history here.

Once the Harleston Parker jury selects the finalists, the Harleston Parker People’s Choice is chosen by a public poll asking the community to vote on the most beautiful finalist.

The Common App

In 2020, the BSA Design Awards Program incorporated the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, comprising 10 measures—each with a set of thought-provoking questions designers and clients can use to guide their projects. Beginning this year, the Design Awards adopts the Framework’s measures through the Common App worksheet, which engages metrics that further inform progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment.

The Common App is an assessment tool to provide guidance on the Framework for Design Excellence’s 10 measures. Applicants enter project information and answer qualitative and quantitative questions related to at least three of the 10 measures, yielding a visual representation (a spider graph) depicting a project’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. This not only provides accountability for project teams but also allows jurors to better understand the project’s goals and its impact. “The main feedback we’ve heard from past jurors is the need to see project metrics,” says Patricia Olshan, program manager at the BSA, “otherwise, what values are we rewarding if goals are not aligned?”

In addition to the metrics portion of the Common App worksheet, submitters to the application-based categories—Built Design Excellence, Small Firms, and Unbuilt Planning and Design—will also be required to provide narratives addressing Impact Advancements (specifically, Social, Technical, and Environmental Advancements) that will further demonstrate how a project’s impact drives the values of good design.

These metrics and advancements not only serve design awards but also highlight the projects’ value proposition and align with the City of Boston’s requirements for data for certain projects, policies, and 2030 goals. “It’s inspiring to see work that is having an impact and recognizing the value of what designers can do,” says Olshan.

Two-Stage, Two-Jury Selection

In line with the values of design excellence, Built Design Excellence and Small Firms projects will undergo a two-phase jury process that evaluates both the Common App metrics and worksheet narratives, followed by portfolio and impact advancements narratives.

First, using the Common App worksheet submissions, a technical jury will assess each project’s overall performance in its respective category. The jury will then recommend projects to advance, essentially filtering out projects that do not meet or exceed performance criteria. Second, using portfolio and impact advancement narratives, a design jury will subsequently evaluate projects based on design and impact, and ultimately make final award decisions.

At the jury’s discretion, the number of awards and award recognition in any category or project type may be given to as many or as few projects as are deemed worthy by the jury.

Questions and Submission Deadlines

Submissions open today and run through September 15 have been extended through September 29. For questions, please refer to our website, or contact Wandy Pascoal at [email protected].