The Core Project Competition

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    Tanya Olson

    Boy, this really rubs me the wrong way……Anyone else read the fine print in this competition? Award of the unspecified cash prize is up to the discretion of the judges? They can use your ideas in any way shape or form as they become the property of The Core Project? Most competitions at least have a project award waiting at the end….

    Yep – Sebastopol is a gorgeous, appealing, post-hippie (yes, and some mid-hippie) community in western Sonoma County with the huge problem of two very important highways intersecting at the heart of an otherwise cozy, unique downtown. Its difficult to find parking, questionable pedestrian safety and forget riding a bicycle through town if you value your life. It is one of the most exclusive and unaffordable communities in the county with less affordable (not low-income – AFFORDABLE) housing than teh town of Sonoma. Everyone wants to live there – very few can afford to. It would be a blast to reimagine the community to its potential.

    BUUUTTT…….It also happens to be surrounded by literally hundreds of the most talented design firms in the county. I can’t fathom that this affluent community has no money to invest in meaningful design process. The firms in SF and Sonoma County must be livid.

    My opinion – another ‘competition’ designed to get free ideas. It wouldn’t rub me the wrong way if it was a competition for a neighborhood in Detroit, for instance, or other location/project that has limited economic resources, but this is like Palm Springs asking for free help. Rub salt in our wounds why don’t they. What say you, League of Underemployed Designers?


    I cant speak to this competition directly, but I have been watching other competitions come up on and reading their fine print–It’s disappointing to see the issues you mention, but also such restrictions as age, experience, education, background, location, etc. I think I read criteria for one competition stipulating that entrants must be under 30 years old..?? Bizarre.


    I think there’s a lot of ‘free’ work happening everywhere, whether youre an ‘intern,’ underemployed LA, or small office trying to get a foot hold.

    Alan Ray, RLA


    I know the conditions for this one are vague and I’d be very reluctant to participate in the competition because of this reason. However, it could be an opportunity to land a major project that you could never get on your own. Here’s why….an individual with no political ties rarely if ever, gets awarded a job like this….I don’t care  how talented you think you are, the big firms that have made contributions to the correct politician in charge is the firm that gets the work,  no matter how un-talented they may  be, it does not matter. This is why so much bad work gets built…, It could be your only opportunity to land one of thers nice projects…..In a blind competiton you at least get a fair shot of winning the job on the merit of your talent. I do like that aspect of it….


    I won a design competition in the 80’s sponsored by AIA and ASLA, in Knoxville, TN.

    It was an open national competition to design a Nature Park (Krutch Park) in the center of downtown Knoxville….there were 90 entries from all over the USA…first prise was $3,000.00, and a contract for $50,000.00 to provide Const. drawings and Const. Administration…. I could have never done this job if it had not been a blind competition.

    Why, because no one knew who I was and I lived in another city…..

    Craig Anthony

    I’ll second that. There’s no free lunch.

    Matt Fridell

    That’s the thing about this competition.  There is no “guaranteed” award – up the judges.  Then, if they want, they can steal your work and hire the politically connected firm.  Everything good and awesome about your competition they have stripped out.


    Congrats, on that one, back then.  That must have felt awesome!  Very cool.  It’d be fun to see more competitions done that way!

    cary bush

    Points well taken Ms. Olsen, although things aren’t what they always seem, even in Sonoma County California.  The Core Project: Ideas Competition for Sebastopol, California is the making of a volunteer group of citizens who live and work in Sebastopol.  It has been a very grassroots effort looking to find solutions to the very issues you highlight, and we are now turning to the international design community for insight and inspiration.  This effort has had the support of the city council all along; our local AIA chapter has also given its support, for the principles that Mr. Ray has noted. The group is also seeking support and sponsorship from the community to run the project and help fund the prize money. 


    From having participated in other design competitions myself, it’s the value of an Idea and the creative opportunity of giving FORM to that Idea that fuels my participation.  I do it all the time, even without notoriety or money exchanged. Furthermore, and as noted by Mr. Ray, the group (including myself) hopes that the efforts and creative design ideas generated could be built.  Perhaps some submission Ideas are applicable and perhaps some are not.  All the same, it’s the “value of an Idea” and not just another “low bid/ cost” job that is being presented.   My personal hope involves the support of my peers (the landscape architect community) to provide insight for our profession in the making of a new 21st century model.  An Idea from a napkin could go a long way if the opportunity is presented to the public and the powers that be.


    Lastly, all entrants, specifically merit and honor awarded entrants, will be noted and credited for their work.  The Core Project has the full intention of making that a priority.

    Alan Ray, RLA

    thank you, yes it was my “15 minutes”…..

    Tanya Olson

    Thanks for the clarification. Little of this comes through in the competition announcement, in my opinion.

    Why would this not be ‘what it seems’? Why the hidden source and agenda? Why ask for a $150 entry fee, then decline to reveal the prize amount? If the prize is related to the number of entrants then SAY IT.

    Compare your call for entries to the call for the Drylands Design Competition – the entry fee is low and the ‘prize’ is to present the entry at a conference. Everything is clear and above board.

    Its not the entry fee in itself that encites suspicion – its the fee + lack of clear award process + lack of clear ‘ownership’  or source of the competition + the wording essentially saying ‘we can build your design without paying your or crediting you’. If the source is a coalition of community members, city council and local AIA – then SAY IT.

    Sebastopol is a great little town with some incredible design challenges that could be really interesting and fun to try to solve – why pretend that the project is any fancier than it is:

    1. we’re a grassroots community coalition – here’s who we are and here is what we want to bring back to the community as a result of this competition

    2. we don’t have any money, so the prize will the collected entry fees minus expenses for display space rental, printing, etc to be divided in this specific way

    3. we can publish or use your drawings in any way we see fit but will always credit you for your work

    4. your work may used as the inspiration for future design work in the town

    5. maybe we’ll call you

    Thats all I’m sayin’.

    Alan Ray, RLA

    …what they are doing is waiting to see how much money they generate from the entry fee and after they have paid themselves, whatever is left over will be the prize money….if there’s any left.

    the whole set up is strange…I woulldn’t touch it with an “eleven foot pole”!

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The “value of an idea” is so little that those generating them need to pay $150 in addition to their efforts to have them considered?


    I guess I do not have a problem with using the egotistical segment of the design community as a fund raising vehicle as well as a cost saving way to get design done if it so prevalent. I am a big believer in harnessing the current that exists rather than trying to swim up stream. If the current is there, it is a smart way to get things done without a budget.

    Not everyone has a big enough ego to participate. Some clearly see it as taking advantage of people. It is a risk that they decided to take and they may live with the benefit or they may live by the consequences. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

    Heather Smith

    Yay…more free work. 😛

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