The awards are not a beauty contest. Applicants must show how their project contributes to ecological quality and energy conservation, economic performance and compatibility, ethical standards and social equity, quantum change and transferability, and contextual and aesthetic impact—the only purely architectural element.

Says Santos, “There's a whole group of us who want good architecture along with the rest of the issues. It's a tall order, but I think we are ready.”

The foundation is gearing up to award $2 million more for projects begun since June 1, 2007. For the first time, the foundation also will honor conceptual projects by designers younger than 35. For this new “Next Generation” category, Holcim has set aside $35,000 in prize money for each region.

  • The silver winner in the 2005 regional awards for North America was the Renzo Piano and Chong Partners-designed California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which features an extensive green roof as well as a solar energy system and natural ventilation. The project will open to the public in September.

    Credit: HOLCIM FOUNDATION

    The silver winner in the 2005 regional awards for North America was the Renzo Piano and Chong Partners-designed California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which features an extensive green roof as well as a solar energy system and natural ventilation. The project will open to the public in September.

“What we're looking for in our main category are projects in an advanced stage of design,” says Schwarz. But organizers realized after the first round that students “have more visions and ideas.”

Two young visionaries from Cambridge, Jinhee Park and John Hong of Single Speed Design, learned of the Holcim Awards in time to enter the 2005 contest. Their Big Dig Building, an unbuilt version of a house they constructed using cast-off concrete and steel from Boston's highway project, earned a $5,000 “encouragement” award.

“Competitions are costly, and for a small office like ours, they threaten to devour all of our resources,” says Park. “However, it is the best way to keep our minds honed to new issues, materials, and contexts. Like many of our peers, we still have aspirations to change the world for the better.”

Santos—who will be joined on the North American jury by Mohsen Mostafavi, dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design; Marion Weiss of Weiss/Manfredi; and Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Museum—wasn't expecting a flood of entries. But she was clearly in the market for innovation. She talked with enthusiasm of a smaller Holcim project, a poster contest won recently by MIT students James Graham and Tad Jusczyk. Their “Crowd Farm” proposes to harness human energy, and they had made a stool that drew enough power from the act of sitting to fire up LED lights. Now that, she says, is “a big idea.”

For contest rules, go to holcimfoundation.org. North American winners will be announced in late 2008. Global awards will be announced in 2009. .