Design a Tech Lab, Win $250K

March 14, 2007

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Calling all architects and designers: in a new contest, the Open Architecture Prize will be awarded to the architecture firm or individual with the best design of a computer lab "that can be adapted to local needs and built in communities around the world." Build a lab — if not for the sheer challenge, enjoyment and humanitarianism, then how about for the $250,000 winnings?

Rather than awarding money to honor past achievements or directly funding research, more and more prizes are inciting innovation by tapping into our competitive and entrepreneurial spirits. First came the Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight; then came news of an H-Prize to encourage research into hydrogen as an alternative fuel.

Now Advanced Micro Devices has announced it is sponsoring a new $250,000 prize challenge that calls on architecture firms to design a computer lab for use in developing nations around the world.

The $250,000 Open Architecture Prize, designed to be a multi-year program that will draw competition from design teams around the world, is the largest prize in the field of architecture.

According to the announcement:

Each year, a winning design will be selected from a field of low-cost, sustainable design projects and built in a selected community. The first project for the Open Architecture Prize will be an 'e-community center,' a centralized building equipped with internet connectivity solutions designed to enable an entire community to access the transformative power of the Internet.

The winning designs will be built as part of the prize and in alignment with AMD's 50x15 initiative, a program the company introduced at the World Economic Forum in 2004 to connect 50 percent of the world's population to the Internet by 2015. To accomplish that goal, AMD must propagate learning labs, technology and connectivity in underserved nations.

The $250,000 prize will be given to the architecture firm or individual with the best design of a computer lab "that can be adapted to local needs and built in communities around the world," according to AMD.

Wired notes:

The purpose of the technology center is to serve as both a school and a meeting place for an entire community. But this is no Oprah dream academy. While classes will be taught and entrepreneurs will conduct business from the center, the site will also be used to generate income in order to make the project sustainable. It could house, for example, a cell-phone charging center, or an internet cafe, or a health-care clinic. The building's functions will be determined based on the winning design.

The contest was announced late last week at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference, an invitation-only event that draws roughly 1,000 executives, scientists, politicians and celebrities.

AMD set up the challenge with Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that promotes building and design services for the underserved. The nonprofit is the brainchild of architect Cameron Sinclair, who co-founded Architecture for Humanity with Kate Stohr eight years ago. Sinclair won a $100,000 grant from last year's TED Prize so he could "do something positive to change the world," according to CNet (via USA Today).

Sinclair has spent last year's winning TED grant money, along with other donations, to create the Open Architecture Network, an open-source online community for sustainable and humanitarian building that launched this week. Upon completion of the winning built designs, the plans will be made openly available through the Open Architecture Network. Architecture for Humanity, which was one of last year's big winners at TED, used the conference's forum this year to announce the contest and the network, the latter of which brings together architects, designers and community organizers to "freely share blueprints, ideas and resources for improvement projects in areas affected by geo-political, environmental or economic hardship."

"The biggest problem is that the hundreds of companies pushing this (internet connectivity) as their corporate social responsibility don't have implementable solutions," Sinclair told Wired. "If there are 400 entries, there are 400 potential solutions. AMD is stepping up to fund and support the building of one, but anyone can help build others.

"Idea competitions are a waste of time. We are a profession that builds. Competitions should be about implementing innovative solutions.

The Open Architecture Prize will get under way this summer, and the winning design will be constructed and in use by the end of 2008.


Open Architecture Prize announcement

CNet, via USA Today


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