Digital technologies allow designers to be fabricators, to explore new materials and methodologies, to engage in more competitions and speculative projects, and to collaborate with disciplines outside the realm of traditional architectural practice. The theme of the 2012 Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers, an annual portfolio competition, is “No Precedent”—an up-front acknowledgment that this is uncharted territory.

The 2012 Prize honors leaders of six firms who’ve defined their own paths: Jorge Arvizu, Ignacio del Rio, Emmanuel Ramirez, and Diego Ricalde, MMX Studio (Mexico City); Jimenez Lai, Bureau Spectacular (Chicago); Sean Lally, Weathers/Sean Lally (Chicago); Seung Teak Lee and Mi Jung Lim, STPMJ (Brooklyn); Michael Szivos, SOFTlab (New York); and Koji Tsutsui, Koji Tsutsui & Associates (San Francisco and Tokyo).

The Architectural League Prize recognizes young designers in North America who’ve graduated within the last 10 years. The Prize has proved a barometer for the profession; past winners include Steven Holl, FAIA (1981); Billie Tsien, AIA (1984); and Neil Denari, AIA (1986). This year’s winners receive $1,000 cash and priceless exposure, including online and physical exhibitions and participation in a series of lectures and podcasts. A catalog of winners’ work will be published by the Architectural League and Princeton Architectural Press.

The competition's call for entries requested portfolios featuring either real or theoretical works—as long as they fit the “No Precedent” theme. Jury members included architects Toshiko Mori, FAIA; Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA; Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA; and Robert Somol, as well as New Museum director Lisa Phillips and the Young Architects and Designers Committee (comprised of past winners Dominic Leong, Michael Loverich, and Emily Abruzzo, AIA).

A glance at the winning firms’ websites reveals the requisite residential projects for young practices. But their designs extend into the realms of urban design, installation and exhibition design, and education and research. There are fewer final photographs of buildings and more renderings, photographs of models, collages, and sketches that make daring propositions. SOFTlab, for example, also designs websites, and Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular is soon publishing a collection of short stories and cartoons.

If these practices are any indication, the interdisciplinary approach is becoming the norm rather than the exception, redefining the notion of the full-service firm.