Architectural competitions easily run aground. Vague briefs can attract piles of unworkable proposals, and overeager clients, though they use the contests to generate publicity, haven't necessarily raised enough money and momentum to realize the winning designs. But Casey L. Jones, if hired in advance, can make competitions lead smoothly to built work.

The most prominent of the country's half-dozen professional advisers to architectural competitions, Jones works out of New Orleans in partnership with Reed Kroloff, the dean of Tulane University's architecture school. After just a few years of full-time advising, Jones, 40, is watching his competitions' winning designs move toward construction, from Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley (the Rockwell Group's SteelStax cultural center in Bethlehem) to back home in New Orleans (Global Green's housing complex by Workshop/apd).

Before clients even decide to launch competitions, Jones says, "We make sure that they've adjusted their expectations. If they're proposing a cultural center for a few million dollars, we tell them, 'You may not get someone like Richard Rogers to enter. But you might well get the next Richard Rogers.'"

Jones sympathizes with architects partly because he trained as one (B.S., University of Virginia; M.Arch., University of Michigan), then practiced for a few years (Cooper Lecky in Washington, D.C., and Goshow Associates in New York). In the late 1990s, as associate director of the Van Alen Institute in New York, he coordinated ideas competitions for Governors Island and the East River's banks.

Working for the General Services Administration's Design Excellence Program in the early 2000s, Jones saw the process from the other side, serving as client to architects such as Antoine Predock and Robert A.M. Stern. "I've looked at thousands of proposals; I've learned how firms are organized, what they've achieved, and how they present themselves," he explains.

So he knows how to sift hype from truth when Jones|Kroloff clients--including Motown Records, the Pentagon, and the Whitney Museum--start hunting for architects. Perhaps only a third of the clients, in the end, decide to host competitions. "Juries can be fun to watch, but the standard selection process is fun to watch, too," Jones says.

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