Uncertainties and Possibilities: Exploring Innovation in Architecture Based on Open Design Competitions in Finland

Heini-Emilia Saari, Oscar Person, Matti Vartiainen


Design competitions form an essential part of architectural work and are widely associated with innovation in architecture. Yet despite scholarly interest in both design competitions and innovation, empirical studies into their relationship in architecture have remained limited. This article puts forward a multidimensional understanding of architectural innovation based on an analysis of documentation from 37 open design competitions in Finland, an architectural context where there is a longstanding and active commitment to design competitions. Three main types of innovation are identified from a wide range of references to innovation in the studied documents. Nevertheless, in a number of competitions, innovation did not emerge as a prime concern, and references to innovation appeared inconsistently. The study thus underlines both the potential diversity and uncertainty of innovation in architecture, while also questioning its taken-for-granted status in design competitions. The findings call for a more nuanced consideration of the meaning, scope and practices of innovation in architectural projects and competitions where innovative outcomes are desired.

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