Footprint 26: The Architecture Competition as ‘Contact Zone’ – Towards a Historiography of Cross-Cultural Exchanges


The Call for Contributions for Footprint 26 is out now. Competition is key to the architectural profession. On a daily basis, practicing architects compete for the recognition of their ideas, new commissions, team approval, media attention, prizes and awards. In this sense, the architecture competition (understood as a contest of ideas or projects produced in response to a common call) is a perfect example of the practice of architecture. Authors like Tigerman (1989) and Reynolds (1996) have described notable competitions (like those for the Chicago Tribune Tower and the National Diet Building of Japan, for example) as drivers of historical change based on a succession of styles. More recent scholarly research has defined the architecture competition as a ‘professional institution, political event, and expression of taste’ (Lippstadt:1989) or as ‘fertile space for utopian experiment’ (Chupin: 2015). These latter interpretations open a line of inquiry that suggests that the production of knowledge fostered by architecture competitions is not a unidirectional process.

This issue of Footprint will study different modalities of the architecture competition, and the ways in which the actors and stakeholders involved in them have collectively produced architecture knowledge. Authors are asked to examine the architecture competition as a productive site of negotiation and exchange, or ‘contact zone,’ as defined by comparative literature scholar Mary Louise Pratt. From the field of colonial studies, Pratt defines contact zones as ‘social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical ways.’ On these grounds, the architecture competition emerges as an open arena for debate between different architecture cultures that produce, in Pratt’s words, friction as much as ‘exhilarating moments of wonder, revelation, mutual understanding and new wisdom.’ From this perspective, the study of architecture competitions is essentially a study of exchange.

Like other contact zones intrinsic to the profession – such as international architecture exhibitions, biennales, summer meetings and development aid programs – architecture competitions can be considered intense transcultural and transdisciplinary exchanges of architecture knowledge. As such, they have significantly affected the way architects have thought their profession. Recognizing the architecture competition as a contact zone should stimulate innovative reflections on the theory and methodology of architecture.

Authors are encouraged to elaborate on the implications of appraising the architecture competition as a contact zone. This call especially welcomes case studies in which different actors and stakeholders (sponsors, judges, architects, media, public) have reciprocally exchanged knowledge, mutually affected each other and brought about new architectural developments. The immediate objective of this issue of Footprint is to distill the particular character and mechanisms that are fundamental to the contact zone of the architecture competition. In doing so, it simultaneously searches for an architecture historiography that transcends the static description of buildings, the work of single authors, and the unidirectional transfer of knowledge.

Footprint 26 will be published in Spring 2020.

This call is open for full articles (6000–8000 words) as well as for review articles (2000 – 4000 words) that offer important insight into the topic of architecture competitions as ‘contact zones’. Full articles must be submitted on Footprint’s online platform before 3 June 2019, and will go through a double-blind peer-review process. Authors interested in contributing review articles should contact the editors before 20 May 2019 with an extended abstract of their proposal (500 words). The editors will select from the proposed review articles based on thematic relevance, innovativeness and evidence of an explorative academic level. A guide to Footprint’s preferred editorial and reference style is available at Authors are responsible for securing permission to use images and copyrighted materials. For submissions and inquiries, please contact editors Cathelijne Nuijsink and Jorge Mejía at