NSW Building Legislation 2021 (NSW)
July 16, 2021
Designing for Bushfires and COVID-19
October 29, 2021
NSW Building Legislation 2021 (NSW)
July 16, 2021
Designing for Bushfires and COVID-19
October 29, 2021

Get the most our of Design Excellence Competitions using PropTech

Property developers, architects and designers in Sydney would be aware of the design control initiatives that go hand in hand with the development application (DA) process.


A core aspect of the City of Sydney’s Competitive Design Policy (CDP) is mandated design competitions for all major property developments located in the City of Sydney LGA.


What is a Design Excellence Competition?


For those not familiar with the term, a Design Excellence Competition (design comp) is a competitive design process undertaken in the early planning stages of a development, i.e., prior to submission of a DA.


It involves the Proponent (usually the developer) and Sydney City Council jointly enlisting a Competition Jury to judge submissions from invited architects addressing a competition brief.


Here’s a simple breakdown of the process:

  1. The developer selects three (3) architect firms to compete, with certain criteria considered. This includes representation from emerging or international firms
  2. The developer produces a competition brief, generally based on their approved envelope (or Stage 1 DA)
  3. At this point, the Jury panel is selected by the Proponent and council, generally consisting of experienced design professionals
  4. Competing architects submit their proposed design. Concepts vary widely, each responding to the brief in various ways
  5. The Jury is invited to review the submissions, provide feedback and, ultimately, agree on the winning design
  6. The winning architect is engaged by the developer to progress the design for the detailed DA submission
  7. The architect is expected to remain on the project until construction is completed.

 Who benefits from Design Excellence Competitions?

If the process is conducted fairly, everyone.

  • The Proponent benefits from a thoroughly vetted, holistic building design that is more likely to be approved for development.
  • The Entrants and their chosen partner firms benefit from the opportunity to innovate and originate within a clearly defined envelope and competition brief.
  • Competition Jury members benefit from the professional credence of such a role and ideally, their industry knowledge and insights drive community-focused critical design resolutions.

Overall, the initiative plays a critical role in championing innovation and design excellence in new developments, as it creates a competitive space for creative and original thought to be applied.

Ultimately this comparative evaluation process results in better outcomes for the public and community. This raises the quality and liveability of urban environments and the standard of living for its inhabitants and guests.

What are the challenges of design comps?

  • Forming a comprehensive brief in a short timeframe is a challenge for developers, as technical aspects such as service and structural engineering are traditionally time-consuming and costly processes.
  • While encouraging innovation, the process itself involves a lot of work, especially from architects who devote a lot of resources to a project that may not go ahead. 

PropTech assisting Design Excellence Competition processes

PropTech can be used to drastically speed up the lengthy (and costly) design competition process across two key phases:

  • Forming the brief that is supplied to the design competition Entrants.
  • Assess the viability of the individual submissions, ensuring compliance with the services requirements of the brief.

Phase 1. Competition Brief


Initially developed by the Proponent, and their consultant team alongside council, the competition brief sets the objectives for the competing architects to meet within the design. This includes minimum services requirements for the competition architects to design to, such as:

  • Planning requirements    
  • Public domain outcomes
  • Sustainability and ESD targets
  • Commercial objectives, i.e., minimum GFA, NLA (commercial), NSA (residential) and cost requirements
  • Minimum services requirements


The brief functions to define the limitations of a project for the Entrant who then identifies opportunities for design excellence and innovation within those bounds.


Typical service design requirements for a competition brief considers:

  • Location of condensers and plant    
  • Substation types
  • Whether a building is powered by 100% renewable energy (i.e., green energy)        
  • Service spatial requirements, including risers and other plant
  • ESD pathways to achieve the Proponent objectives e.g., 6 Star Green Star, 6 Star NABERS.

As innovation is of utmost importance in design competitions, it is vital that accurate, timely data is provided for architects to design to. With current methods, it is near-impossible to meet these timeframes.


Neuron’s services engineering technology enables developers to quickly produce a design brief outlining all of the engineering requirements for the site.


Phase 2. Submissions reviews


Once submissions are received from the Entrants, the Competition Jury is invited to review and assess the viability of the individual submissions.


Normally taking several weeks, Neuron technology is able to provide a detailed, same-day assessment of each design submission, analysing how successfully each complies with the services requirements of the brief.


This fully equips the Competition Jury to navigate the submission reviews in an informed and confident manner and ensures a swift vetting and report process.


Case study: Neuron + ABC Consulting


Neuron was recently approached by a developer to provide services assistance on a design competition.


Neuron teamed up with Ryan Campbell from ABC Consulting, one of the leading structural engineering consultancies in Australia, to cover both services and structure in our review.


During the briefing phase, we input the building data, compared the outputs and produced a report of the findings. The developer reviewed the cost and space data and selected the options most aligned to the project vision.


A detailed design brief and requirements matrix were presented, forming a crucial aspect of the brief for the competitors to refer to in the concept design.


The process took less than 24 hours, a significant reduction from the several weeks it would normally take consultants using manual processes alone.


The design comp lasted four weeks in total. On week two, we met with the three architects to talk through any questions they had and provide preliminary watchpoints based on their work to date.


Finally, on week 4, the three architects made their submissions.

During the review phase, we ran a detailed assessment of each design, giving analytics as to the completeness of each design.


Issues were then categorised into high, medium and low priority.

We summarised this assessment into a report with overarching commentary on the buildability and cost of each of the three concepts. This package was then sent to the Competition Jury to be considered in their overall review.


What the developer had to say:


"Neuron is a game-changer for our development teams. Allowing us to critically assess opportunities including various scenarios within minutes to inform decisions & improve the overall yield efficiencies of our projects. Central Element is excited by the opportunities which Neuron will continue providing us as we move forward, seeking to utilise this revolutionary approach to design on many upcoming projects."

 Benjamin Knowles

Development Manager, Central Element


About Neuron

Neuron is part of a growing group of industry experts committed to setting a new standard for design outcomes on a global scale.


Developed to empower users to maximise efficient building design potential, Neuron is fully equipped to enable the design process to flow at the pace you need. We are excited to be leading an industry-wide shift in design excellence, and to share our expertise with users to shape a better future on a global scale.


Neuron technology ensures services have been designed the most efficient way to maximise NLA, NSA and other key development metrics. Our capacity to provide fast, accurate services engineering advice lends us perfectly to these design control measures.


We’re proudly helping to speed up the design competition process in the name of innovation and better, more sustainable cities.


To discuss your design competition, get in touch with Neuron at www.neuron.build.


https://www.governmentarchitect.nsw.gov.au/resources/ga/media/files/ga/guidelines/draft- design-excellence-competition-guidelines-2018-05.pdf