Judging design excellence – last year’s MEA Awards panelist Holley Chant

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Holley Chant of KEO explains what it is like to be a judge at the MEA Awards

In a climate mobilised world, it is not enough for architecture to be beautiful.  Today’s built environment thought leaders embrace environmental stewardship and design teams include climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies as a fundamental part of any basis of design. For the Middle East Architect awards, the sustainability approach is an important component of all categories submissions.

I was delighted when ITP asked me to be the sustainability judge for their annual Middle East Architect competition in 2014 and I really appreciated that MEA have a sustainability specialist as part of the event.


I had some butterflies in my stomach when the judging day came. I was going to be sharing the judging room with some fantastic design talent, all very serious practitioners in their own right-Architects Sumaya Dabbagh, Pedram Rad, Salim Hussan, Stefan Frantzen and Technical Director Bart Leclercq as well as Architect/Lecturer Cristiano Luchetti. I was a bit apprehensive that there might be buildings that were beautiful but not with no sustainability strategies implemented.

Some might say that architecture is an esoteric subject and question how a team of judges can define with any clarity why something is award worthy when it comes to the built environment form.  My own experience is that an architectural competition is rather different than architectural criticism however.

In a competition, first and foremost, entrants need to be extremely careful to read the requirements of the submission. Numerous award entries don’t make it to the short list due to not addressing this most fundamental step. Question yourself every step of the way if your submission has comprehensively answered the questions asked.  This isn’t easy since your word limit requires being concise.  Strategic use of images becomes very important.  More isn’t always better:  I personally don’t respond positively when generic corporate marketing brochures, no matter how glossy, are dropped into a competition entry.

In terms of how to best show off sustainability attributes, quantification is key: quote improvements over baselines and avoid terms that appear to be “green wash”.  I am a big believer that the architect drives the vision of low energy design. It is very impressive when a competition entry manages to detail sustainability in such a way that it goes beyond a LEED or Estidama checklist, demonstrating that the architect fluently understands the local climate and has used cost neutral strategies to embed passive sustainability attributes into their building.

As our judging day progressed in 2014, I was happy to see there were stunning entries that manifested a deep understanding of low energy design.  With that attribute in place, I was then able to comfortably rank the buildings that were indeed more than just beautiful.

Holley Chant, LEED AP, GSAS CGP is KEO International’s Executive Director of Sustainability and Commissioning. She is recipient of the Middle East Architect Principal of the Year Award for 2012. 

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