An Inside Look at Palladio Design Award Judging

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The winners of the 2017 Palladio Design Awards have been announced. With over 100 entries this year, each demonstrating excellence in traditional design and craftsmanship, the competition was fierce.

palladio awards 2017

The esteemed Palladio Awards jury consisted of two teams: one team reviewed all the commercial/institutional entries and the other team judged the residential entries. The judging took place at the historic Georgetown Club in Washington D.C. on March 8. The jury gave eleven awards in all; five to commercial/institutional buildings and six to residential.

Palladio winners will be presented with full four- color glory in the June issue of TRADITIONAL BUILDING and the July issue of PERIOD HOMES. The Palladio Awards ceremony takes place July 18 in Salem Mass., at the Hawthorne Hotel, during the Traditional Building Conference.

As is often the case, the category with the most entries is “residential new construction over 5,000 square feet.” If houses are getting smaller, as much of the media suggests, it is not apparent with Palladio submissions. The least number of entries are in the multi housing and landscape categories. The jury is not obligated to give an award in every category unless they deem a project deserving.

palladio Awards judging 2017

The Palladio Awards judging at the Georgetown Club in Washington, DC.

The judging kicks off with a dinner, which this year, felt like a reunion, as jurors who had worked together in past lives, reconnected. This gathering sets the tone for collaboration and good communication…important to the jury process the following day. The next morning, over several cups of coffee, the jury gets to work pouring over the entries. Submissions are studied on lap tops and I pads rather than hard- cover notebooks. Judges read the project program, study the floor plans and ogle at the professional photography. The more photos the better.

For restoration and renovation projects, shaded floor plans and before/after photos help the judges see the work in question; the difference between new and old. This is important to our understanding of a project. The starker the before/ after contrast, the better the impression a project makes. Dilapidation is a selling point when the restoration looks as good as new.

Close-up photos of architectural detail are also appreciated by the jury. Sometimes a project will win for “craftsmanship” at the jury’s discretion, even if that project doesn’t win in its category. Within reason, jurors can make up their own category when an exemplary project speaks to them. While we never encourage a runner -up prize, when jurors are deadlocked, they can award a tie. Such was the case with the Watch Box and the Park Avenue Armory projects, this year.

During about four hours of quiet study, each juror gives each project a score from 1-5. Five is the highest score. The scoring narrows the field of entries to those semi-finalists which are then discussed, often debated, by the jury. This is the best part of the Palladio Awards jury process…hearing the jury critique the projects, exchange their views and often, influence each other about the merits of the project. This is when our editors lean in to listen carefully, as the discussion makes good fodder for the Palladio project stories we write in the magazines.

Here is what the Palladio jurors looks for, very consistent over time, no matter who serves on the jury: scale, proportion, authentic materials, attention to detail and craftsmanship. We see some project entries which argue their beauty because of opulence. But opulence rarely wins against architectural restraint, humility and understatement. Like a magazine editor, what a designer leaves out, is as important as what they put in.

The Palladio jury, like the competition itself, celebrates time tested solutions applied in new ways. Buildings which are built to last, flexible in their use over time, modern but not modernist, are likely award winners. Sometimes the jury get flummoxed when comparing a big budget project to a modest budget project. But then they refer to Palladio’s design principals: harmony, balance, clarity and originality.

In restoration entries, the Palladio jury calls out the sensitive treatment of a building’s defining architectural features and always shows appreciation for artisanship. In renovation projects or infill, respectful context is always acknowledged.

A Palladio Award is coveted because it is competitive. The jury does not know which firms are submitting award entries; the entrants remain anonymous to jurors. The work, especially the winning projects, set a good example for excellence in traditional building. The program’s intent is to celebrate great work and award the firms doing it.

Firms who do not win often get discouraged, especially since putting together the award entry is labor intensive. Be discouraged not! We keep all the entries for future consideration and often publish non-winning projects in subsequent issues of PERIOD HOMES and TRADITIONAL BUILDING. It’s all good.