120 Hours Student Design Competition

Before leaving England we registered for a student competition and completely forgot about it. The 120 Hours Competition is different to other competitions in that rather than just allocating a submission deadline, it also holds back the brief from being released until 5 days before the deadline, leaving only 120 hours to complete a submission. When the email came through with the brief it was a bit of a “oh, shit.” moment and we had a few moments of “are we actually going to do this one?” before deciding yes, of course we’re going to do it.

The brief required a few readings before getting to grips with what it was actually asking for. The challenge was entitled ‘A House Without Function’ and asked students to produce a non contextual, non hierarchical space that is suitable for human habitation. This open but challenging brief seemed quite exciting and we talked about a few ideas before deciding to go on a walk to a cafe in central Ploiesti.


This competition came shortly after our trip to Sibiu, Rasnov and Bran, and following our discussions about the interesting spaces and, in our opinion still relevant, architecture of Bran Castle, we used the mediaeval castle typology as a starting point for our ideas. We wanted to focus on how simple forms are used to create more complex larger compositions through a mixture of order and disorder. The richness of the architectural experience is achieved without much obvious or intricate ornament. Instead the experience is more defined by features such as window seats, balconies, disorientation processions from room to room, and a constant play between solid and void.


We began to sketch a few ideas and diagrams of the kind of thing we wanted to achieve and we both seemed to agree on the direction to take. In discussing how we were going to progress the design and present the project, we came to the conclusion that a combination of a model and overlaid sketch would probably work best. By building a model we could design as we build, quickly putting out ideas into action to see if they work or now. The model would serve as a development tool and the centrepiece of the final presentation, ideal for such a time constrained project. The overlaid sketching would bring the architecture to life, filling it with human activity and showing the chaotic manner of inhabitation we’d envisioned for the design.

With no time to lose we got back to the flat and searched for any card and paper we thought could be of use in constructing the model. We also decided it would be interesting to capture the whole process on camera so we set up a camera to take photos of the model every couple of minutes. You can watch the video here: 120 Hours Model Building Video


It was fun to build a model as the design, rather than the usual building a model of a design. We’re both strong believers of the importance of models in the design process. No other form of representation can give as true a feel of a design’s character as a real physical model. The act of constructing a model with your own hands creates a far more intimate knowledge of a project than can ever be achieved through a looking screen, regardless of how realistic your renders are.

The process was long, quite tiring, and even boring at times, but it was satisfying to see the model slowly grow and the kind of spaces we can never usually design materialise in physical form. As the deadline got ever close we had to decide a point to stop building and start finalising our couple of A3 sheets. Once we reached that point the next thing to do was to photograph the model. The weather wasn’t great, with dark stormy clouds overhead the natural light we’d hoped for was as illuminating as it might be. We snapped photos from all angles, chose the best ones, then got to work with the sketches of activities.


We had a list of the kinds of activities we could put in the images. We wanted it to be simple, fun, and a little mischievous. The deadline got closer and closer and we entered the inevitable late scramble to get everything finished. After some very basic photoshopping and quick discussion about how to do the sky, we were pretty much there. After uploading our project with minutes to spare, the clean up began and Loki the cat was finally allowed to explore the object she’d had her eyes on for a few days.


The short description for our proposal was:

Story telling is at the heart of the human condition. How we have told stories has supposedly evolved with our lives. We fear that our complex new technologies have simplified our interactions, our spaces in which we create and share storeys and therefore our roles as storytellers and story consumers. We propose an architecture of simple components to house complex and subtle realities of the stories which make up our lives. Rooms belong to houses, houses belong to cities, and cities belong to people. We have abolished the house, instead opting for a city of rooms. Rooms for all, rooms for one, rooms for everything.

Our final sheets:

120 hours boards120 hours boards2

We felt fairly satisfied with what we achieved in a few days. Our approach and the outcome was different to any project we’d done before so that in itself felt like a victory. This kind of fun, playful approach to architecture was a breath of fresh after months of working on Revit for a commercial practice.

A fortnight later the winners were announced, and unsurprisingly we were not among them. The awards went to:

1st Place – Students Micha Ringger, Adrian Brunold and Jonatan Egli and from ETH Zurich

2nd Place – Razvan Login, a student at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium

3rd Place –  Zuzanna Jędrzejewska from Poland, a student at the Warsaw University of Technology and Bartosz Bukowski from Poland, a student at ETH Zurich

While the second and third placed project look interesting and well considered, the award for the winning project was a little disappointing and we feel somewhat disrespectful to the hundreds of students who put in hours of work for the competition. While it might be considered an original and clever idea by some, it’s really not, but well done to them anyway.

This was one of the most fun and rewarding competitions we’ve entered. The limited time democratises the competition as bigger companies can’t plough masses of resources into their submission. It also encouraged a direct progression from initial idea to presentation which cut out a lot of the time usually wasted on deliberating over little things. All in all the process was great fun, allowed us to try something new, and we ended up with a project we’re proud of.





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