This is Not a Nest

Transcultural Metaphors and the Paradoxical Politics of International Competitions


  • Jean-Pierre Chupin Université de Montréal



Although the architecture competition has been analysed through a number of rhetorical lenses, the recurring production of transcultural metaphors, particularly in international competitions, remains to be addressed as a genuine disciplinary phenomenon. The hypothesis of competitions as contact zones is particularly appropriate for the study of international events, in which competitors forge broad analogical figures to bridge cultural differences. Recent studies in the cognitive understanding of analogical matrices have considerably reinforced the theories on metaphors. Our analytical grid characterizes analogical matrices to identify levels of symbolic operations through the differentiation of formal, structural and conceptual analogies. We first dig into a sample of competition projects nicknames (Crystal, Birds’Nest, DNA, Cloud, Lace, Stealth, etc.) to confirm that these tropes have a paradoxical status at the intersection of architects’ intents and the public expectations. We then summarize an in-depth hermeneutical discourse analysis of 40 North American international competitions. This indicates a fourfold series of expectations to which competitors hope to provide answers in an international ‘conflict of interpretations’. Adhering to the theory of speech acts, we suggest that performative metaphors in competitions appear less as indicators of designers’ intentions than as products of the broader context surrounding competitions themselves. We conclude with a proposed grid indexing four types of contact zones in which metaphorical relationships are actively created and not just repeated.

Author Biography

Jean-Pierre Chupin, Université de Montréal

Jean-Pierre Chupin is a professor at Université de Montréal School of Architecture, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Competitions and Mediations of Excellence ( ). Chief editor of the Canadian Competitions Catalogue (www., he is currently developing the Atlas of Research on Excellence in Architecture along with Prof. Terrance Galvin and scholars from all Canadian schools of architecture ( Among his last books: Competing for Excellence in Architecture (2017) and Architecture Competitions and the Production of Culture, Quality and Knowledge (an International Inquiry), edited with Carmela Cucuzzella and Bechara Helal (2015).


Austin, John Langshaw, How to Do Things with Words, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962).

Bahamón, Alejandro et al., Inspired by Nature: Plants: The Building/Body Connection, trans. Parramón Ediciones (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2008)

Bahamón, Alejandro and Patricia Pérez, Inspired by Nature: Animals: The Building/Biology Connection, trans. Parramón Ediciones (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2009).

Bilodeau, Denis, ed. Architectural Competitions and Territorial Imagination: Cultural Projects in Quebec, 1991-2005, (Montreal: Uqam/LEAP, 2006).

Black, Max. Models and Metaphors (Studies in Language and Philosophy). (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962).

Bouveresse, Jacques, Prodiges et vertiges de l'analogie: de l'abus des belles-lettres dans la pensée (Paris: Raisons d'agir, 1999).

Collins, Peter. Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture (1750 - 1950), (Montreal: McGill Queen's, 1998). Second Edition. Originally published in 1965.

Collins, Peter, Architectural Judgement. (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1971).

Coyne, Richard, Adrian Snodgrass, and David Martin. "Metaphors in the Design Studio." Journal of Architectural Education 48, no. 2 (1994): 113-25.

Dziewior, Yilmaz ed., Ai Weiwei, Art / Architecture, KUB, (Berlin: Dorén + Köster,


Eisenman, Peter, “Bio-Centrum, Frankfurt-am-Main”, in Deconstruction, Omnibus Volume, ed. Andreas Papadakis et al. (New York: Rizzoli, 1989), 159.

Farrando, Jordi, and Wolfgang Tochtermann. UIA Guide for International Competitions in Architecture and Town Planning (Unesco Regulations / Terms of Application): (International Competitions Commission, 2008).

Fernández-Galiano, Luis, Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy, trans. Gina Cariño (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000), 162.

Frampton, Kenneth, Studies in Tectonic Culture, (Cambridge Mass.: The MIT Press, 1995).

Galison, Peter L. and Emily Thompson, eds. The Architecture of Science (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999)

Helal, Bechara, “Competitions as Laboratories: On the So-Called 'Experimental” Nature of Architecture Competitions’ in Cucuzzella, Carmela and Helal, Bechara (eds), Architecture Competitions and the Production of Culture, Quality and Knowledge (An International Inquiry), (Montreal: Potential Architecture Books, 2015), 232-253.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. "Epilogue: Analogy at the Core of Cognition." In The Analogical Mind (Perspective from Cognitive Science), edited by Gentner Dedre, Keith J. Holyoak and Boicho N. Kokinon, 499 - 539. (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2001).

Hofstadter, Douglas, and Emmanuel Sander, eds. Surfaces and Essences, Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, (New York: Basic Books, 2013).

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Les Métaphores Dans La Vie Quotidienne. Translated by Michel de Fornel et Jean-Jacques Lecercle, (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1985).

Lipstadt, Helene. "Experimenting with the Experimental Tradition, 1989-2009: On Competitions and Architecture Research." In The Architectural Competition (Research Inquiries and Experience), edited by Magnus Rönn, Reza Kazemian and Jonas E. Andersson, (Stockholm: Axl Books, 2010), 37-76.

Lipstadt, Helene, and Barry Bergdoll. The Experimental Tradition: Essays on Competitions in Architecture, (New York, N.Y.: Princeton Architectural Press, 1989).

Mitchell, William J. City of Bits (Space, Place and the Infobahn), (Cambridge Mass.: The MIT Press, 1995).

Nicholas, Aymone, L’apogée des concours d’architecture : L’action de L’UIA De 1948 – 1975, (Paris: Picard, 2007).

Picon, Antoine, Ornament: The Politics of Architecture and Subjectivity, London: (John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2013).

Picon, Antoine. Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions, (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010).

Ponte, Alessandra and Antoine Picon, eds, Architecture and the Sciences: Exchanging Metaphors (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003).

Pratt, Mary Louise, ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’, Profession, 1 (1991): 33-40.

Rykwert, Joseph, “Organic and Mechanical”, in Rethinking Technology, ed. William W. Braham and Jonathan A. Hale (New York: Routledge, 2007), 337-349.

Secretan, Philibert. L'analogie, (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1984).

Serres, Michel, Le Tiers-Instruit (Paris: François Bourin Editeur, 1991).

Schön, Donald. "Generative Metaphor: A Perspective on Problem Setting in Social Policy." In Metaphor and Thought, edited by A. Orthony, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press),1979.

Schön, Donald A., The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, (New York: Basic Books, 1983).

Sokal, Daniel and Jean Bricmont, Impostures intellectuelles (Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 1997).

Tostrup, Elisabeth, and Arkitekthøgskolen i Oslo. Architecture and Rhetoric: Text and Design in Architectural Competitions, Oslo, 1939-90, (Oslo: Oslo School of Architecture, 1996).

Tzonis, Alexander. "Huts, Ships and Bottleracks: Design by Analogy for Architects and/or Machines." In Research in Design Thinking, edited by N. Cross, K. Dorst and N. Roozenburg, (Delft: Delft University Press, 1991). 139-64.

Ursprung, Philip, ed. Herzog and de Meuron: Natural History (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Baden: Lars Müller Publishers, 2002).

Utaker, Arild. "Analogies, Métaphores et Concepts." In Enquête Sur Le Concept De Modèle, Pascal Nouvel ed., (Paris: PUF, 2002). 203-21.

Verma, Niraj. "Metaphor and Analogy as Elements of a Theory of Similarity for Planning." Journal of Planning Education and Research 1, no. Fall (1993): 13-25.

Watts, Jonathan, “No one in the state here would ever ire me for a project like this. Even if they tried, I would not do it”, Ai Weiwei interview by, The Guardian, Thursday 9 August 2007.

Additional Files