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Competition: Fairy Tales 2020

An international contest is seeking bold and imaginative architectural fairy tales which delve into the major issues facing the world today (Deadline: 19 December)

Architects, designers, writers, artists, engineers, illustrators and students are invited to draw up compelling storyboard narratives featuring radical solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems, such as climate change, technological advances and socio-economic justice.

The Fairy Tales contest is the seventh to be held by New York-based architectural competitions platform Blank Space which was set up by Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani in 2013 to encourage architects to think beyond the typical design briefs and localised challenges which are usually presented to the profession.

2019 Honorable Mention: ‘The Great Island of Replicas’ by CONSTANTINOS MARCOU

2019 Honorable Mention: ‘The Great Island of Replicas’ by CONSTANTINOS MARCOU

2019 Honorable Mention: ‘The Great Island of Replicas’ by CONSTANTINOS MARCOU

Giuliani said: ‘Each year we run the Fairy Tales competition the stakes get higher and higher. Although the prompt has always been the same each year, the entries are more and more engaged with current events and the state of our planet.

‘Some of the best entries we have received to the competition in previous years have been incredible stories of caution and warning. This year we are looking for solutions instead of warnings. We know the issues plaguing our planet, now we are looking to you to solve them.’

Last year’s competition – judged by Moshe Safdie of Safdie Archtiects and Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao – was won by Lorena Cano Acosta and Nicolás Mendoza Ramos whose proposal ’The Fall’ inspired by the mass exodus of people from Venezuela. 

The 2018 contest – judged by Daniel Libeskind of Studio Libeskind and Bjarke Ingels of BIG – was won by a ‘Deep Pool That Never Dries’ by Louis Liu and Senyao Wei. The proposal explored the failure of local media responses to the recent demolition of low-income homes in Beijing.

2018 1st Prize: ‘Deep Pool that Never Dries’ by LOUIS LIU & SENYAO WEI

2018 1st Prize: ‘Deep Pool that Never Dries’ by LOUIS LIU & SENYAO WEI

2018 1st Prize: ‘Deep Pool that Never Dries’ by LOUIS LIU & SENYAO WEI

Judges for this year’s contest will include Hoffman and Giuliani, Alison Brooks of London’s Alison Brooks Architects, architectural historian Beatriz Colomina, the author Gail Carson Levine, and 2019’s winners.

Submissions must include a team description and five images along with a written descriptive narrative of between 800 and 1,400 words. The overall winner, to be announced in March, will receive $2,500 while a second prize of $1,500 and third prize of $750 will also be awarded.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 19 December


Regular registration until 21 November: $60
Late registration until 19 December: $75

Contact details


View the competition website for more information

Q&A with Matthew Hoffman

The co-founder of Blank Space discusses his ambitions for the competition

Matthew Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman

Why are your holding a seventh contest for architectural fairy tales?

Back in 2013, Francesca Giuliani and I decided we wanted to host an architecture competition, which is what led to us founding Blank Space. The toughest part of starting the company was deciding on the first topic. After about six months of looking at different options we landed on Fairy Tales. We’ve hosted it yearly since then and it’s become far larger than we ever anticipated. Our initial hunch was that it would be a great outlet for architects and designers to write about architecture in a new way, and that’s certainly turned out to be true. What we didn’t foresee was how participants would leverage fiction to tackle huge issues like sustainability, equality, globalization, international relations and more. Each year the results of the competition are a sort of time capsule of some of the most pressing issues of that year. We just launched the 7th annual competition a few weeks ago and this year our emphasis is on finding proactive, optimistic solutions in the entries.

What would you like to see in this year’s creative fairy tale visions?

The brief is very open ended - probably as open ended as it could be. Basically, we ask participants to submit five images and a short story. That’s it. We don’t prescribe aesthetics or site or any other constraints. Aesthetically we always see a very wide range of entries. The first year’s winning entry was a series of oil painted canvases with incredible detail. In other years we had very simple computer drawings and illustrations. Typically the strength of the winning entries lies in the narrative itself. Sustainability has been one of the most important recurring themes through all of the years. It is obviously at the forefront of everyone’s minds and it finds its way into many of the entries.

2019 2nd Prize: ‘Monuments of the Past’ by NICK STATH

2019 2nd Prize: ‘Monuments of the Past’ by NICK STATH

2019 2nd Prize: ‘Monuments of the Past’ by NICK STATH

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We have a huge range of participants – from professional studios to amateurs that have never practiced architecture a day in their lives. A few years ago, we had a family enter the competition and receive an honorable mention. We also had Seattle practice Olson Kundig win a few years ago. The beauty of the topic is that it is open ended and lets many people enter the competition, no matter what their level of experience is. Most people want to be architects. They grew up playing with Lego and they want to put forth designs and craft environments, just like architects, and the Fairy Tales competition has proven itself to be a great venue for that.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

This is a great question and one that we are thinking about a lot. I personally believe that architects need to develop new business models. If architects are waiting for clients to pay them for certain projects they will not have a seat at the table for some of the largest issues we face. For instance, Smart Cities are a perfect example of this. Driverless cars and other new technologies are dramatically changing our cities. We want to help find new business models so that architects can leverage their skills to develop visions for this new technology. At their core architects are problem solvers and are very well equipped to deal with disparate fields like technology, urban planning, law, accessibility, budgeting etc.

At Blank Space we are working on new projects to get architects and designers into these conversations, and hopefully find new, sustainable business models along the way.

2017 1st Prize: ‘Last Day’ by MYKHAILO PONOMARENKO

2017 1st Prize: ‘Last Day’ by MYKHAILO PONOMARENKO

2017 1st Prize: ‘Last Day’ by MYKHAILO PONOMARENKO

Are there any other recent imaginative architectural projects you have been impressed by?

I tend to be most interested in new technology and how it will change the built environment. A few years ago we hosted the Driverless Future Challenge with the City of New York, and we partnered with most of the big city agencies dealing with the problem. They helped educate us on how Uber and similar companies had already affected the city, and how Amazon shipping packages area already having dramatic effects. In NYC, shipping companies like Amazon deliveries have started leaving their trucks double parked all day, and using those trucks as mobile shipping outposts. They will ship packages into the truck and out of it – they will rotate staff and keep the truck in the same spot. They collect the parking tickets essentially as rent. It’s had a horrible effect on traffic. We don’t view technology as a hindrance at all and it can be utilized to vastly improve the standard of living for everyone. However, it will take immense planning to make sure that it does. This is what we want to tackle at Blank Space.