The Architecture Competition: A Beauty Contest or a Learning Opportunity?

The French case in the light of European Experiences


  • Véronique Biau Ecole Nationale Superieure d'Architecture de Paris-La Villette, laboratoire LET-LAVUE
  • Jodelle Zetlaoui-Léger ENSA Paris-La Villette, LET-LAVUE
  • Bendicht Weber ENSA Paris-La Villette



The architecture competition is a high point of interaction between very diverse actors, architecture specialists or not. However, is it really an opportunity for exchange and shared learning? Based on surveys conducted in France and in several European countries on behalf of the French Ministry of Culture, this contribution aims to identify the conditions that foster the interactions inherent to competitions, the possible scope of these exchanges and the rationale behind them. When the competition is a chosen procedure, it is most often perceived as a moment of generating ideas that opens a professional debate and also addresses the general public. When it is mandatory, the competition is guided by another logic: that of ensuring the fairness and transparency of the joint choice of a project and a service provider as well as the legality of the contract concluded with the latter. Depending on the place given by decision-makers to this legal and contractual dimension, the nature and scope of the debates around the competition vary widely. If the legalistic approach dominates, it tends to limit interactions. However if the contracting authority adopts a more open approach to the competition, from programming to the dissemination and capitalisation of its results, it can make a real process of collective deliberation and favour the growth of shared competence.

Author Biographies

Véronique Biau, Ecole Nationale Superieure d'Architecture de Paris-La Villette, laboratoire LET-LAVUE

Véronique Biau was trained as an architect, urban planner and sociologist. She is a senior researcher at the LET-LAVUE laboratory, HESAM University, École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris-La-Villette. She investigates the transformations of the architectural profession, linked in particular to the evolution of the social order and the technico-economic context. She is the author of Les architectes au défi de la ville néolibérale (Parenthèses, 2020).

Jodelle Zetlaoui-Léger, ENSA Paris-La Villette, LET-LAVUE

Jodelle Zetlaoui-Léger is an urban planner, professor at the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris la Villette and researcher at LET-LAVUE laboratory, HESAM University. Her work focuses on the participation of citizens in architectural and urban projects and on the evolution of the practices of planning and construction professionals. She co-authored (with Camille Gardesse) ‘Citizen Participation, an Essential Lever for Urban Transformation in France?’ in Neighbourhood Planning and Localism: Power to the People?, edited by Quintin Bradley, Sue Brownill (Policy Press, 2016).

Bendicht Weber, ENSA Paris-La Villette

Bendicht Weber is professor in architectural and urban design at the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris la Villette and researcher at LET-LAVUE laboratory, HESAM University. His research and teaching focuses on the cognitive trajectories of architectural and urban design work, approached both from the perspective of singular approaches and from that of interprofessional, social and political processes.


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