Warren Byrd, Jr: “I Don’t Do Drugs. I Do Design Competitions.”


Design competitions are a big component to the profession of landscape architecture. Many firms, whether in an effort to maintain their high-profile statuses or to propel their smaller firms into the big leagues, will enter these competitions. At the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting, Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, University of Virginia; Donald Stastny, FAIA, STASTNY: architect llc; and Warren Byrd, Jr., FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects sat down to discuss the current state of design competitions and their place in the discipline of landscape architecture. The focus was primarily on the competition as a means of design exploration, a strategic tool for remaking urban landscapes, and an opportunity for positioning landscape architects as multidisciplinary team leaders.

Meyer, who has recently been appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts by President Obama, was the first presenter on the subject of design competitions. She has extensive experience as a competition juror on the national level, including the recent Trust for the National Mall’s design competition in D.C. Meyer does not see competitions as a platform solely to honor winners, but also as a driver of new ideas that advance the state of the design professions and multidisciplinary discourse.  In reference to Rem Koolhaus’ submission for the Parc de la Villette design competition in 1982 (see image above), she said “some of the most important entries did not win. OMA was not selected because the jury was afraid of it.”

Meyer also spoke of TerraGRAM’s submission to the High Line Ideas Competition in 2003. Although TerraGRAM’s team (lead by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and D.I.R.T. Studio) did not win the job, their ideas lived through the project. “TerraGRAM’s submission is the driver of the third phase of the High Line,” alluding to the proposal to retain the opportunistic planting palette planned for the final phase of the park. “A competition is a snapshot of generational concerns.” In this case, restoration is the driver, and the competition entries are indicative of that concern.

Stastny is as intimately familiar with architectural competitions as anyone. As a practicing architect, urban designer, and process facilitator for over forty years, he’s recognized as one of the preeminent design competition advisors and managers in North America. He understands the design competition process and what constitutes a successful submission. Stastny believes that successful submissions are those that are multi-disciplinary in nature, and his competitions reflect that. He has most recently worked with The Waller Creek Competition, an international competition to redesign a 1.5 mile stretch of Waller Creek in downtown Austin, Texas. An amazing set of final proposals have been created.


Byrd also has extensive experience in the realm of architectural competitions. Byrd is interested in how competitions position urban landscapes as central to the remaking of cities. An innovative program, Greening America’s Capitals, a project of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which is made up of the E.PA., the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), aims to use design teams to help state capitals develop green building and green infrastructure strategies. Byrd is currently working on projects in both Little Rock, Arkansas, and Hartford, Connecticut.

Byrd and his firm spend ample time on competitions as he believes that they are a good way to keep his company current. Byrd’s firm won a prominent competition in Pennsylvania, the Flight 93 National Memorial, a competition that Stastny directed. In the end, Byrd is hungry and sees the competition as a way to keep his skills sharp and his firm in production. His belief is evident in his conclusion: “I don’t do drugs. I do competitions!”

This guest post is by Tyler Silvestro, a master’s degree candidate at the City College of New York (CUNY), and writer for
The Architect’s Newspaper.

Image credits: (1) OMA Proposal for Parc de Vilette / Georgia Tech, (2) TerraGRAM High Line proposal / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, D.I.R.T. Studio, Beyer Blinder Belle, (3) Waller Creek  / Waller Creek Design Competition.

One thought on “Warren Byrd, Jr: “I Don’t Do Drugs. I Do Design Competitions.”

  1. Jane Roy Brown 11/01/2012 / 11:49 am

    Having visited the Flight 93 Memorial, I can attest that Byrd’s work there is powerful. The place is really worth visiting.

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