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7 Great Architecture Competitions for High School Students

If you’re interested in applying to architecture, urban planning, or other design-related majors, entering a competition is one of the best ways to derive inspiration, build your portfolio, or develop unique skills – not to mention the resume boost!

Colleges reward this type of experience, since it closely mirrors the structure of architecture curriculums. Not to mention, your portfolio will benefit from structured, disciplined projects and collaborative work. Whether you’re passionate about sustainability, construction, or anything in between, there’s a competition out there for you. In this blog, we’ve outlined 7 of our favorites for high schoolers across the world. All information is updated as of 2023!



Registration Deadline: December 16, 2024

Eligibility: Full time students for the 23-24 academic year, as individuals or in teams of any size. Faculty advisors and professional mentors may join teams as consultants.

Cost: Free for students!

Perks: Citation, Merit, or Honor Award (for winners), and official publication here for all participants!

Project examples: Past submissions


If you are interested in sustainable design, this is the competition for you! Each year, Architecture at Zero tackles the ever-important goals of decarbonization, equity, and climate resilience, providing a unique opportunity to explore energy efficiency and net-zero architecture. This year, the design brief called for a teaching and innovation farm lab located in Allensworth, CA. Participants were tasked with creating a site plan, detailed building design, resilience strategy, and finally an essay outlining equity considerations.


Proposals were expected to feature renewable energy systems/carbon reduction provisions, in compliance with the California Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards. Required documentation included: site plan, floor plans, perspective drawings, illustrated sections, mechanical system summary, monthly energy consumption bar chart, storage systems, decarbonization narrative, and more. This may sound intimidating, especially given the complex technical calculations that seem to be necessary– but don’t worry!


Architecture at Zero is also open to college-level and professional teams, so this list is tailored to a higher level of experience. Submissions from high school teams are weighed individually (not in competition with university or professional entries) and winners are chosen from each category. You’ll receive plenty of resources to help you get started (maps of the site, informational seminars on Title 24, tips and tricks for students, and lots of opportunities for Q&A) and accumulate a wealth of content for your college application portfolio, not to mention valuable experience!


Registration Deadline: January 8, 2024

Eligibility: Designers of any age or level of experience, as individuals or in teams of up to 4 members.

Cost: Advanced Entry: $55 (by Jul 14), Early Entry: $75 (by Oct 13), Final Entry: $95 (by Jan 8)

Perks: Overall Winner Prize ($5,000), Innovation Award ($1,000), Adaptability Award ($1,000), Pragmatic Award ($1,000) and publication here for Overall Winner, Honorable Mention, and Director's Choice winners.

Project examples: Past submissions


If you’re looking for something more classically architectural than environmental, HOME is a great option! Participants are tasked with designing a home, whether that’s a single-family dwelling, multi-family development, adaptable structure, or temporary living. The task here is to critically evaluate what the “home” means to you, reinterpret it in a unique way, and determine how the domestic notions of permanence, privacy, and safety fit into your interpretation.


Past projects have included everything from refugee camps to floating pods, so the sky's the limit! Site and scale are flexible, so be creative– the bolder, the better. Proposed living spaces should be documented on four 12” ✕ 12” drawing boards, plus a 200-word summary. Be sure to check here for more details on submission requirements.


Although this competition is also open to university students and professionals, winners are not picked by category– even if winning is less likely, just participating will go a long way on your college application.


Registration Deadline: November 5, 2023

Eligibility: Designers of any age or level of experience, as individuals or in teams of up to 4 members.

Cost: To be eligible for monetary award: 110€ (116 USD), to participate without running for monetary award: 80€ (84 USD). Discounted group registration rates are available if there are 3+ registrations from the same high school, university, or college, so be sure to have a faculty/staff member send buildner@contact.com a request!

Perks: 1st place: 3,000€, 2nd place: 1,500€, 3rd place: 1,000€

Project examples: Past submissions



The Last Nuclear Bomb Memorial is an opportunity to respond to the ever-present political threat of nuclear warfare. Participants must design a bomb memorial on one of several decommissioned nuclear testing sites across the world–the list of options is provided in the design brief. The memorial itself may be a building, structure, or art/sculpture piece of any scale and functionality. This issue exists within a delicate political context, so be sensitive to this tension– after all, architecture never exists in a vacuum. This competition is a great introduction to the reality that, more often than not, buildings have political and economic agendas.


Projects should be represented on one A2 landscape-oriented presentation board (less than 10MB per jpg) with no accompanying text. To mirror global silence on the ban of nuclear weaponry, proposals must be silent– any and all design logic must be conveyed solely through the architecture. This includes concept descriptions, room tags (e.g. auditorium, bathroom, etc.), view names (e.g. plan, section, etc.), scale (e.g. M 1:500, etc.) or a project title.


This means focus on your visuals– be as precise and intentional with them as possible! Buildner offers a preliminary presentation review, where designers may submit their presentation draft for a preliminary review before final submission to the jury. Feedback is usually provided in 1-3 days to ensure ample time for refinement.


Registration Deadline: November 1, 2023

Eligibility: Designers of any age or level of experience, as individuals or in teams of up to 4 members.

Cost: 55€ (58 USD) for students. Discounted group registration rates are available if there are 3+ registrations from the same high school, university, or college, so be sure to have a faculty/staff member send buildner@contact.com a request!

Perks: 1st place: 3,000€, 2nd place: 1,500€, 3rd place: 500€


The Architect’s Chair is a great way to engage your creative sensibilities in a (relatively) less demanding environment. The 2023 design brief asked each participant to create a signature chair (or other form of seating such as a stool, bench, etc.) that characterizes their design philosophy and unique individual vision.


For years, world famous architects have designed custom furniture in an effort to distill their legacy into a functional work of art, resulting in iconic furniture such as the Eames chair. Designs are judged on functionality/comfort, aesthetics, material exploration, craftsmanship/construction, and versatility/adaptability.


Don’t be afraid to be radical with form, material, and construction technique– out-of-box thinking is rewarded here! You will not be required to actually build your chair, just represent it with drawings and visuals organized on one A2 landscape-oriented presentation board (10 MB or less per jpg). Remember, architecture is all about the user experience– whether you’re working at the scale of a single chair or a high-rise building, the user always comes first!


Registration Deadline: November 1, 2023

Eligibility: Designers of any age or level of experience, as individuals or in teams of up to 4 members.

Cost: To be eligible for monetary award: 110€ (116 USD), to participate without running for monetary award: 80€ (84 USD). Discounted group registration rates are available if there are 3+ registrations from the same high school, university, or college, so be sure to have a faculty/staff member send buildner@contact.com a request!

Perks: 1st place: 3,000€, 2nd place: 1,500€, 3rd place: 1,000€

Project examples: Past submissions


If you’re passionate about equitable housing and ready to jump into a large-scale project, the Los Angeles Affordable Housing Competition is it! This is an urban design program, and thus has a much larger scope than anything else on this list.


The brief asks participants to create an urban proposal that addresses the dire housing crisis in Los Angeles, California, USA, and its related issues of skyrocketing rent, gentrification, unaffordable starter homes, etc. Proposals should accommodate a multiplicity of users, from single professionals to couples to families. This competition is unique in its attempt to create affordable housing, forcing designers to consider cost– projects should ideally be low budget, minimizing land/material use and maximizing ease of assembly.


The site (within LA) is flexible, giving you the freedom to explore a variety of urban contexts before choosing suitable design conditions.


Final projects will be judged on site selection, flexibility of design, community integration, energy efficiency, aesthetics, and innovation. Be sure to look through the design brief for recommended deliverables, which must be condensed into one A2 landscape-oriented presentation board (10 MB or less per jpg). This competition will be challenging, but we want to stress its uniqueness– we think it’ll be an extremely rewarding experience!


Pro tip: there’s no such thing as too much research! Site selection can be overwhelming, but familiarizing yourself with the urban fabrics of LA (transportation networks, social demographics, ecology, etc.) before attempting to design will go a long way.


Registration Deadline: November 3, 2023

Eligibility: Designers of any age or level of experience, as individuals or in teams of up to 4 members.

Cost: To be eligible for monetary award: 120€ (126 USD), to participate without running for monetary award: 90€ (95 USD). Discounted group registration rates are available if there are 3+ registrations from the same high school, university, or college, so be sure to have a faculty/staff member send buildner@contact.com a request!

Perks: 1st place: 5,000€, 2nd place: 2,500€, 3rd place: 1,000€


The Legendary Highway 14 Tower competition deals with a unique brand of architecture where the end goal isn’t necessarily inhabitation. Participants are tasked with designing a highway observation tower and accompanying landscape elements (hiking and bike trails) in the rural town of De Smet, South Dakota, USA.


This tower should provide an immersive experience into the historic ecosystem of the site, while maintaining a balance between nature and structure. This competition features a well-defined site, specifically the Silver Lake and Big Slough biosphere (extensive site materials are available in the design brief, from scaled maps and photos to CAD model files). Any structure and landscape proposals should be in compliance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in the spirit of accessibility and safety.


Designers must also consider the longevity of the construction process and the finished project, and stick to materials and systems which resist natural decay. The winning design will actually be implemented as part of the ongoing Highway 14 Tower Trail project, so take it seriously when they say legendary! The available budget is $100,000-$250,000, so you won’t feel limited by costs. Final deliverables include four A2 landscape-oriented presentation boards (10 MB or less per jpg). The details of this competition are subject to change, so stay up-to-date on the official Buildner website.



Registration Deadline: April 1, 2024

Eligibility: Full time students for the 23-24 academic year, as individuals or in teams of up to 3 members.

Cost: Free for students!

Perks: 1st place: 30,000 NOK ($2739), 2nd place: 15,000 NOK ($1369), 3rd place: 7500 NOK ($685) as well as publication here for all participants!

Project examples: Past submissions


If you’re heading towards design school and curious about life as a higher-level architecture student, look into 120 Hours! Although the task and site vary year by year, this competition has a unique 5-day structure. Contestants will have 120 hours (5 days) after design briefs are released to produce an architectural response to a given prompt.


The focus of this event is sustainability, so you can safely expect it to be environmental in nature! Projects are evaluated not only for their creativity and functionality, but also on effective use of the small time frame. Obviously, 5 days is not a lot of time, so you’ll only need to produce 4 drawings/images/photos and a 200-word proposal.


University-level architecture assignments usually have a very intense timeline, so this experience will be invaluable in preparing you for that. Not to mention, the competition is student-run and student-judged, so you’ll have contact with students from all over the world and build a close network of peers.


If you're looking for a handy visual guide to the best architecture competitions for high school students, here's a table with all key details included -



7 Great Architecture Competitions for High School Students - A Handy Guide
7 Great Architecture Competitions for High School Students - A Handy Guide



One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in design, art, and architecture, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Neha is a current senior at Rice University studying Architecture with a minor in Mathematics. She loves crochet, thrifting, and Taylor Swift, and is excited to help Lumiere’s students find their passion!


Image Source: 120 Hours logo (Wikimedia Commons)

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