If you're lucky in your clients and your abilities, you design lovely houses all the time. When they're done, you're delighted to put them up on your Web site or in your portfolio without resorting to hours of Photoshop intervention. And your clients are delighted to tell their friends about how wonderfully their house turned out, and you gain a few more great clients. But do all these good feelings mean your house could win an award from a group of other accomplished architects? Quite possibly.

Each year, we put together a panel of six architects to judge our residential architect design awards. This gets tougher and tougher to do. RADA is now the biggest and the most competitive residential design awards program in the country. That's a big responsibility for us at the magazine to bear. It means greater deliberation about the makeup of the jury than ever before. But in general, we look for several criteria when we assemble our decision makers: We aim for geographical distribution, deep expertise in one or more of our award categories, and a history of winning awards themselves—in ours or other programs. We also strive for an open-mindedness to different architectural styles. We try to pass over those architects who are dogmatic in their approach to the profession. We invite people whose work we admire, and people we'd like to get to know better. After all, we spend two and a half very intense days with our judges.

I think this recipe has resulted in a remarkable diversity over the years, especially in our Project of the Year winners. We have had top winners from the Production category; Renovation; Affordable; Custom large and small; and Multifamily. And we've come close with Campus Housing and Adaptive Reuse. I know it's only a matter of time before one of those categories sweeps them all.

Unlike some other awards programs, we don't steer our panels toward certain decisions, categories we'd like to underscore, or arbitrary quotas for numbers and kinds of awards they should bestow. We endow them with limitless latitude to reach their most deliberate, consensus opinions. This has resulted in years where judges have eliminated categories or invented them. There have been times when they've selected more Merit Awards than Grands or more Grands than Merits. And two years ago, they elevated three entries to Project of the Year (we'd never had even a two-way tie before).

So you see, we are at the mercy of our panel. And so are you, if you enter RADA this year. But I trust you'll be in good hands. And because we change up the jury each year, you might even consider re-entering a previously submitted project if you believe strongly in its merit. I have seen projects passed over one year and selected for high awards the next. The same recipe for assembling our panels of judges results in a substantially different group sensibility each time. As Heraclitus said, you can never step in the same river twice. And why would you want to?

Click here for information on how to enter RADA.
November 9, 2007—entry form and fee due.

Comments? Call: 202.736.3312; write: S. Claire Conroy, residential architect, One Thomas Circle, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; or e-mail: cconroy@hanleywood.com.