Conflict, contradiction, and concern : judges' evaluation of sustainability in architectural awards

Oliveira, Sonja and Sexton, Martin (2016) Conflict, contradiction, and concern : judges' evaluation of sustainability in architectural awards. Architectural Research Quarterly, 20 (4). pp. 325-332. ISSN 1359-1355 (

[thumbnail of Oliveira-Sexton-ARQ-2016-Conflict-contradiction-and-concern-judges]
Text. Filename: Oliveira_Sexton_ARQ_2016_Conflict_contradiction_and_concern_judges.pdf
Accepted Author Manuscript
License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 logo

Download (1MB)| Preview


This paper explores how judges evaluate sustainability of buildings in RIBA award settings in the UK. A qualitative approach drawing on institutional theory is used to understand the ways judges legitimate particular evaluative views. Aesthetics and Sustainability focused logics are found to guide the evaluative legitimation process. An Aesthetics focused logic is characterised by reliance on expertise, ‘professionalism’ and perceptions of fair practice, whereas a Sustainability focused logic prioritises moral responsibility, scientific evidence and personal experience. Evaluating sustainability was characterised by conflict, concern and contradiction between and within the logics. Evaluation here is seen as a process of constant negotiation between conflicting priorities and managing wider expectations. Different perceptions of what counts in terms of judges’ understandings of legitimacy whether from the profession or wider society were found to provide a way of compliance or commitment to a particular evaluative view of sustainability. Implications of the findings are threefold. First, the analysis shows a way of studying sustainability evaluation in the architectural domain that shifts the literature's dominant focus on technical features to a consideration of the social context, the profession, awards and other evaluative issues including aesthetics. Second, the discussion draws attention to the importance of examining understandings of sustainability evaluation in view of the legitimacy sources judges draw on from the profession, the awards or wider society to justify particular decisions. Finally the study reveals some of the often overlooked difficulties in evaluating sustainability including negotiating conflicts between competing values including aesthetics versus sustainability, challenges in judging scientific evidence and the need for expert legitimation regarding sustainability decisions. The paper concludes with a discussion of the contribution of empirical and theoretical analysis of sustainability evaluation for research in awards as well as the built environment more generally including the study of uncertainty in evaluative design practice.