|The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
History of the Berkeley Prize
1998-99 BERKELEY PRIZE Jury: Left-to-right (Photo 1) Wendy Tsuji, Benjamin Clavan; (2) Mike Martin, Karin Payson; (3) Mike Pyatok; (4) Richard Whitaker; (5) Ray Lifchez
The international Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence (Berkeley Prize) was founded and continues to be Chaired by Raymond Lifchez, Professor Emeritus of Architecture and City & Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design (CED), through the result of a generous gift to the CED's Department of Architecture by the late Judith Lee Stronach. Now entering its 25th year, the Berkeley Prize has had 3599 undergraduate architecture students participate from 85 countries and has presented 175 awards to 212 student winners, some working in teams of two.
The first year of the Prize (1998-99) was a design competition limited to undergraduate students in two venerable San Francisco Bay Area colleges: CED in Berkeley (opened 1959, with antecedents to 1905); and the Architecture Division of the, then, California College of Art and Crafts in San Francisco (opened in 1984, with antecedents to 1907). Ray thought that it would be valuable to foster a sister relationship with another school of architecture that because of its close proximity would allow for the interchange of students and faculty. To initiate this potential relationship, the Berkeley Prize was started. The competition topic was the Architect Meets the Nursing Home.
The following year, 2000, saw the closure of the CED for renovations making it difficult if not impossible to host an on-site design competition. Scott Refsland and Alonzo Addison, two U.C. Berkeley researchers, approached Ray and said that they were really interested in exploring the potential of an international architecture research website. Their question to him was, “Why don't you take the Berkeley Prize digital and make it a written competition?” This was the first Essay Competition and, as an experiment, it was open to eight schools of architecture throughout the U.S.A. The Prize asked students to respond to the question, "What role can architecture play as a socially responsive endeavor in the future. Each year thereafter, a new topic was announced and a new Question posed.
Each year, the competition expanded its global reach. In partial recognition of this interest, in 2004 all Essay semifinalists were offered the additional opportunity to compete for a Travel Fellowship, a competition which continues to this day. (Not offered in 2020 or 2021 due to the global pandemic. A Community Service Fellowship was substituted for both years.) A shorter-lived competition, the Architectural Design Competition was held between 2008-2011. In 2013, a two-year experimental Teaching Fellowship was also launched.
This specific history needs to be examined within the context of the wider discussions then current in a narrow range of architecture schools and among a small group of practitioners in the United States about the then increasingly apparent disconnect between people-centered and object-centered architecture. Clearly, despite decades of attempts to widen the discussion, the most universally accepted measure of value remained the outward appearance of buildings and places. This growing reality led to some basic questions about where architectural value lies:
The Berkeley Prize was perfectly poised to address these questions - and to provide an incentive for participation in the investigation and implementation of this social perspective in design by undergraduate students of architecture globally.
In recognition of these efforts, the Berkeley Prize is the recipient of the 2008 American Institute of Architects' Collaborative Achievement Honor Award; and the 2002 American Institute of Architects' Education Honor Award. The Prize has also garnered international acclain, not the least reason for which is its complete embracing of digital technology. In partial recognition of this outreach, the 2003 Berkeley Prize competition was named a special event of "World Heritage in the Digital Age," a virtual congress helping to commemorate the 30th aniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
The Prize is only made possible by the work of our Committee, currently 64 architects, achitectural educators, allied professionals, social scientists, past Prize winners, and generally interesting and informed people from around the world. The Committee Members read and review the multiple student Proposals and subsequent Essays and submit them to the year- and topic-specific Jurors who select the final winners. The day-to-day coordination of the Prize and website editing has for years been led by Benjamin Clavan, Ph.D., Architect, a CED Department of Architecture graduate, working in tandem with Thea Chroman (Administrator) and Jessie Canon (IT).