Choosing award winners is a difficult process. After 14 years of organizing ENR's regional Best Projects competitions and four years of holding the national awards, the editors of ENR suddenly found themselves tasked with choosing the Editors' Choice winner.


But first, an independent jury of construction industry professionals had to select the Best of the Best Projects winners, a challenging task in itself.

It all began with more than 730 entries received last spring and summer. Each of ENR's seven regional editions convened a separate jury of industry veterans to choose winners in 18 categories for each region. Those Best Projects were honored at regional events and featured in the regional publications at the end of last year. Next, those winners moved on to the national competition, judged by an all-new industry jury (
meet the judges here). In this round, the Best Projects of ENR California competed against the Best Projects of ENR Southwest, ENR New York, ENR Southeast, ENR Mountain States, ENR Midwest and ENR Texas & Louisiana – hence the name ‘Best of the Best Projects.’


At this level of competition, the difference between winners and losers hinged on the smallest detail. "I was amazed by the breadth of innovation and found remarkable design quality in every project, no matter which yardstick was used to measure – aesthetic appeal, engineering expression, sustainable principles, or simplicity of statement in order to meet cost parameters," says Marianne O'Brien, principal with SmithGroupJRR's San Francisco office.


Ned Pelger, president of Pelger Engineering & Construction in Lititz, Penn., was surprised at how difficult it was to compare one project against another. “Even something as straightforward as safety was challenging,” he says. “We could tell different projects measured basics differently. Our industry needs a much better system for comparing the basics of cost, schedule, quality and safety on projects.”


The judges didn’t always agree, and in fact some decisions hinged on whether one judge could sway the opinion of his or her colleagues. "It was interesting to observe the debate among the judges as they sought to illuminate the unique salient points others may have overlooked," says first-time judge David Bowlin, COO of Broaddus & Associates, Houston.


Once the judges' 18 winners were selected, it was our turn. The editors looked for our cover star—the one project that stood out both visually and contextually. We expected the debate to rage for hours, but after a short discussion the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the Facebook Data Center in Prineville, Ore. You can read what makes this project so special—and important—for the design and construction industry by clicking here.

blog post photo
The team behind Facebook Data Center accepts their Best Projects 2011 award in November at ENR California's regional awards ceremony. The project later went on to win a national Best of the Best Projects award. Photo by Tustin Ellison

From start to finish, the Best Projects 2011 competition took nine months to complete. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work went into the competition, from the submitters who put together their entries to the dozens of judges who read and scored each one.


In thinking about what makes the whole process worthwhile, judge J.J. Suarez, chairman and CEO of Miami-based CSA Group, recalls a research program conducted by his friend Dr. Bill Badger at Arizona State University. “Among other things it showed a strong correlation between celebrating success by a formal recognition and reward process, and project quality; thus, providing benefits to the industry as a whole,” Suarez says. “Since then, I don’t miss the opportunity to collaborate in related initiatives.”


We hope you won’t miss the opportunity to participate in our next competition, Best Projects 2012, either. We’ll again be looking for the best projects in the U.S., so be sure to check back this spring for the call for entries, and follow me on Twitter to get the announcement. Remember, you can't win if you don't enter, and maybe your project will be on the cover of ENR next year!

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