Why Is it Valuable to Enter your Project

SEFA LAB OF THE YEAR® - Why It is Valuable to Submit Your Project for this Award?

Like in any competitive undertaking, you compete against your peers to hone your skills and to compare and contrast your skills with those of your peers. Preparing your laboratory project for submission in a competition of peers is an opportunity to better understand your goals, intentions, and the building that results from the effort, time, and intellectual investment.

One always hesitates to enter these competitions. Why? First, it is a lot of work to analyze and present your own work to a jury that doesn’t have the same intimate connection to the process and the building that you did. Self-reflection and self-awareness can be difficult. Second, you have a far greater chance of not being selected as a winner than of being selected. But isn’t this true of any competition? In the end, you enter to compete against yourself, to show yourself your own merit, and to measure your accomplishments and how they are advanced over the course of your career.

Consciously assembling the argument as to why your project should be selected as “Lab of the Year,” is an intellectual exercise that is rewarding. When we submitted the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus for Lab of the Year we made our submission into a manifesto on how we saw the priorities in laboratory design. We emphasized flexibility, prefabricated movable casework, collaborative spaces on the scale of the campus, the building and the laboratory group, integration with the landscape, and the use of raw materials from the site in the construction of the building. In preparing our submission, we also worked closely with the senior leadership at Howard Hughes Medical Institute to make certain that our submission reflected their institutional goals. These included respect for the context, sustainable design, lack of ostentation or excess, and an understated presence that fostered and sustained the closely-knit campus community that included housing and recreation for families on campus and a hotel for visiting researchers

This process of preparing the submission, addressed and emphasized our planning and design priorities, underscored how closely we collaborated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute leadership and how responsive both we and the Institute were to the researchers’ priorities as they were expressed during our workshops. This all was made central to our submission as it was and still is the foundation of our design process. We did not see our award submission as only a description of a building, but the description of a design process informed by a design philosophy. The submission, which ultimately was selected as Laboratory of the Year in 2007, helped us to understand how we could build on this past accomplishment.

For all of the reasons above, I recommend that any architect who has completed a laboratory that clearly expresses their planning and design philosophy, take the time and make the effort to put that philosophy into words, diagrams, and photographs and submit for the SEFA Lab of the Year program. You will find that you will understand your achievement better and will be well situated to start another project that advances the accomplishments of your past project as you came to understand them in preparing your submission. Moreover, you have an equal chance of being selected as Lab of the Year as any other firm or project. The Lab of the Year award will validate your firm’s expertise in the design and delivery of world class research facilities. Not a bad accomplishment.


Jay Bargmann FAIA is a member of SEFA's Advisory Board and Vice President and Managing Partner at Rafael Viñoly Architects.

Click here to view Jay Bargmann's presentation on the 2020 SEFA Lab of the Year Award winner, The Rockefeller University Stavros Niarchos Foundation - David Rockefeller River Campus

Click here to view this award-winning submission.