Understanding the Awards of Excellence (Issue 191 of Architecture Québec magazine) : Researchers from LEAP and the Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Competitions and Mediations of Excellence present some results of their recent work on awards of excellence in all areas of design

This special issue on Awards of Excellence does not introduce new winners or reveal any results that were not previously known. Its purpose is to call for more attention to a phenomenon – the celebration of excellence – on which there is strangely little critical attention. What is to be understood from the plethora of award-winning projects, achievements and practices year after year? Certainly, the images are part of an intense ballet at each local, regional or national award ceremony. Images of architectural excellence, no doubt about it. However, it is necessary to “freeze frame” the images to begin to question the definitions of quality that they are supposed to summarize, symbolize, perhaps measure. The reader who would like to be convinced of the extent of the phenomenon in a few figures can start this issue at the end, as we draw up an unprecedented statistical portrait of it, revealing in particular the exponential increase in the number of organizers and prizes in a decade.

Georges Adamczyk first of all proposes to shift the “waiting horizon” from the reception of architects or the public to the interest of the academic world. In fact, he takes award-winning projects as models: “projects that are judged excellent by their peers for their exemplary aesthetic and functional qualities are also potential projects for learning about design and production in architecture”. David Theodore places the Quebec awards in a broader Canadian context. While Quebec architects do indeed distinguish themselves in Canada and even abroad, his survey shows that it is certain types of buildings and architectural practices that are distinguished, rather than excellence or the best buildings in general. Paradoxically, he wonders whether the awards really promote good architecture. This is confirmed by Aurélien Catros‘ reflections on heritage distinctions. The recent history of the categories of excellence in conservation first reveals the fluctuations of the underlying policies. And what could be more up-to-date than a policy for school architecture? On this point, Alexandra Paré‘s retrospective look shows that school architecture remains a poor relation of awards. She agrees with the conclusions of Theodore and Adamczyk in inviting us to conceive of prices as a true school of architectural quality. The articles by Sherif Goubran and Carmela Cucuzzella question the growing importance of ecological and environmental criteria in contemporary quality recognition. The statistics compiled by Goubran shed light on the multiplication of definitions of sustainability. Cucuzzella’s analyses show in detail that certain awards literally force the use of ever more “eco-didactic” visibility. She concludes that awards would not only play a recognition function, they would determine a form of excellence. In essence, this inversion is the game proposed by Lucie Palombi who, by temporarily obliterating the images of the prize-winning projects, wonders what a foreign visitor to three prize-winning libraries might understand by considering only the rare comments of the juries. We’ll let you guess.

For as long as the lists of prize-winning projects are not accompanied by the reasons, analyses, judging criteria and therefore the jury reports, there is a risk that the prizes will remain nothing more than nice celebrations and not stages in the full and effective recognition of an “architectural quality policy”.



Editorial: Prices, freeze frame! (Jean-Pierre Chupin, Professor, Université de Montréal)

Taking Home the Prize: Distinguishing Québec in Architectural Awards (David Theodore, Professor, McGill University)

Three award-winning libraries (the reverse visit) (Lucie Palombi, doctoral student, Université de Montréal)

School architecture, the poor relation of prizes (Alexandra Paré, doctoral student, Université de Montréal)

Learning from excellence in residential architecture (Georges Adamczyk, Professor, Université de Montréal)

Quebec in the Canadian sustainable development awards concert (Sherif Goubran, PhD student, Concordia University)

The allegory of heritage through the filter of awards of excellence (Aurélien Catros, doctoral student, Université de Montréal)

What is the purpose of architectural awards?  (Jean-Pierre Chupin, Professor, Université de Montréal)

“Eco-education”: Are “green awards” forcing the visibility of green devices? (Carmela Cucuzzella, Professor, Concordia University)