Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2021

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About the competition

The Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Design Excellence endowment was established in the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design to promote the investigation of architecture as a social art. Each year the PRIZE Committee selects a topic important to the understanding of the interaction of people and the built world that becomes the focus of the Essay Competition. 

The Committee poses a Question on this website related to the topic. Students enrolled in any accredited undergraduate architecture program or diploma in architecture program throughout the world are invited to submit a 500-word essay proposal in English responding to the Question.  Qualified students may also team up with undergraduates from allied arts and social sciences programs and submit proposals in teams of two. (For general requirements, click here). 

From the pool of essay proposals received, approximately 25-28 are selected by the PRIZE Committee as particularly promising. The selected student teams become Semifinalists. These Semifinalists are invited to submit a 2,500-word essay, again in English, expanding on their proposals. A group of readers, composed of Committee members and invited colleagues, selects five-to-eight of the best essays and sends these Finalist essays to a jury of international academics and architects to select the winners.

Steps to enter

  1. Meet the Eligibility Requirements.
  2. Write a 500-word proposal for an essay on this year’s Essay Question, as posted.
  3. Provide one photograph as described below.
  4. Submit the essay and photograph online

Essay Question

The essay question for the Berkeley Prize 2021 competition is:

As a future architect, what is the best way you can serve the needs of your local community?


Basic Criteria:

  1. The competition is open to all current full-time registered students in an undergraduate architecture degree program or undergraduates majoring in architecture in accredited schools of architecture worldwide. Diploma in Architecture students who have not yet completed their Diploma are also eligible.
  2. Essays must be submitted in English.
  3. Finalists will be required to provide proof of current registration in the form of copies of actual school transcripts. You are still eligible to compete if you were an undergraduate student on September 15, 2020, but graduate before the awards are scheduled to be given.

The team

One member of the team must be a current full-time registered student in an undergraduate architecture degree program or an undergraduate majoring in architecture in an accredited school of architecture worldwide. Diploma in Architecture students who have not yet completed their Diploma are also eligible. The other member of the team must be a current full-time registered student in a non-architecture undergraduate degree program and majoring in that program in an accredited school worldwide.  This could include urban studies, the social sciences, engineering, etc. Both students names must appear on their proposal and essay and if awarded a prize, the prize is to be equally shared.

Photograph Requirement

This year the participants are asked to include ONE digital photograph that they have copied from any section, any page, and any year of the BERKELEY PRIZE website that has influenced their proposal.  A brief caption – 50 words maximum – should accompany the photograph telling the organizers what the photo represents and why you have chose it in particular.  Please post the photograph at a minimum 500 pixels wide, and in .jpg format. No more than one photograph will be accepted. The Readers are instructed NOT to add or detract points from their evaluation because of the quality of the photograph itself. The Readers, however, will evaluate how the photographs help support the argument you have made in your Proposal.

Judging Criteria

Judging for the essay competition is on a numeric system. The members of the BERKELEY PRIZE Committee are asked to evaluate each essay in terms of the following criteria:

  1. Does the Proposal address the Question?
  2. How creative, or creatively developed, is the Proposal?
  3. Would the Proposal be clear to a broad audience?
  4. How does the Proposal rank in terms of writing style?
  5. How socially significant is the Proposal?
  6. What is the potential for developing this Proposal into a strong essay?

Each criterion is given a score of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest). The top approximately 25 scoring Proposals become Semifinalists.


There is a total prize of 35,000 USD, minimum 7,500 USD first prize.  The remaining purse is to be allocated at the discretion of the Jury.

Important Date

September 15, 2020Launch of 2021 Essay Competition.
November 1, 2020(Stage One) 500-word essay proposal due.
Mid-December, 2020Essay Semifinalists announced.
February 1, 2021(Stage Two) Essay Semifinalists’ 2,500-word essays due.
February 8, 2021Launch of Community Service Fellowship Competition for Essay Semifinalists.
Early-March, 2021Essay Finalists announced.
March 12, 2021Community Service Fellowship proposals due.
Mid-April, 2021Essay winners and Community Service Fellowship winners announced.


Type of event: Essay competition

Deadline for proposal submission: Nov 1, 2020

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