How AEC firms can craft a winning DBIA awards submission

March 26, 2024

The fields of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) are incredibly competitive. Securing a bylined article in a reputable industry publication isn’t the only way to capture the attention of your desired clients. The prestige associated with winning certain AEC awards (I know, I know, you don’t do it for the recognition) can also bolster your firm’s reputation. But not all awards are the same.

Clients won’t be won over by a participation prize, much less one you paid for! If you deliver design-build projects and you’re going to invest money in an annual award submission, the Design-Build Institute of America’s national or regional Design-Build Project and Team Awards, similar to the organization’s leadership awards, are a great place to start, as they’re incredibly competitive and highly esteemed. They also recognize a wide scope of projects, from vertical construction to various infrastructure sectors like aviation, water/wastewater and transportation.

Because the DBIA Awards are so competitive, they require a lot of diligence and documentation to verify design-build best practices were used to improve the project outcome, a process the DBIA dubbed “Design-Build Done Right®.” Like high school algebra, it’s not enough to show the end result; you actually have to show your work. I know, I know. I’m full of good news today.

I cannot stress enough the importance of timing. The DBIA Awards deadline is typically set for late May, but the application process is time-intensive. If you start drafting your application in early May, you’ll be cutting it dangerously close!

Here are eight helpful tips for crafting the best DBIA awards application:

1. Review past winners to determine which of your projects would be most competitive.

The DBIA is looking for projects that achieve the best value while meeting design and construction quality, cost and schedule goals. This list of past winners will give you a good idea of what will stand out to the panel of judges.

2. Once you shortlist your favorite projects, compare them to the minimum qualifications list. These may change annually, but here is the 2023 list for your reference:

  • Completed and owner-occupied after March 31, no more than three years before the entry year (example: 2020 for 2023) and before the application deadline
  • Completed under a single point of responsibility contract
  • Completed on or ahead of schedule*
  • Completed within budget*
  • Completed with no claims or litigation
  • Project met or exceeded owner expectations, as demonstrated by a letter from the owner
  • Completed with no OSHA recordable fatalities 

*Projects with cost overruns and/or schedule delays that directly result from owner-directed changes or unusual/unforeseen conditions are eligible if the owner approved the change in cost and/or schedule. Applicants will be asked to explain the owner-directed changes or unforeseen conditions.

BONUS TIP: I recommend you also consider which of your shortlisted projects has the most certified design-build professionals working on them because the organization awards extra points to teams with individuals with professional DBIA certifications.

3. Do you have a project that meets those qualifications? The next step is to determine your category or special recognition (i.e., small projects, community/social impact). 

Some categories, like Best in Design (Architecture), will receive more submissions than others. Think strategically about which projects you want to be considered, and in which category, to increase your odds of winning. 

4. Reach out to the project owner and your design-build partners early in the process. 

Some aspects of the application may fall more into the purview of the designer or, conversely, the contractor. It’s important to collaborate with your partners to capture their knowledge and craft a well-rounded application. Consider creating a shared folder to make collaborating on the application easier and allow enough time for executives and project managers from each partner to review the final application before submitting it. 

Additionally, the awards process requires you to submit an owner’s letter detailing the project’s success and impact. Make sure you secure the owner’s cooperation before committing to the application process. 

5. Give yourself time.

Although you can submit the national awards application online, you do not want to wait until a week before the deadline to do so. This is not your 20th-century European modernist pottery essay for your online college ceramics class. If you rush it, it will show. 

This is especially true of some local chapter awards, which require a designed PDF rather than accepting online submissions like the national awards. Rep Ink recently prepared a client submission for the DBIA Florida Design-Build Awards that was 25 pages long! I recommend you allow at least six weeks to draft, edit and design your submission.

6. Understand Design-Build Done Right®.

A panel of judges evaluates the applications based on their overall design-build process, excellence in design and teaming performance. Don’t neglect any aspects of the judging criteria. Here is a list of design-build best practices for your reference. I recommend you find specific examples of how your project applied these practices throughout each phase, including procurement, team and subcontractor selection and construction.

7. Don’t be shy about your project’s unique challenges. 

Did the project cost and schedule exceed the RFP’s specifications? Don’t shy away from that information. It’s not an automatic disqualification. The judging panel comprises industry professionals who KNOW that unexpected challenges like hurricanes or a pandemic can derail even the best-laid plans. They will understand. 

Instead, give them detailed explanations for each owner-directed change or unforeseen circumstance (i.e., sinkholes, flood events, etc.) that caused the costs and timeline to vary. Then, explain how your team used design-build best practices to overcome those challenges.

8. Plan for next year.

    There will be plenty of takeaways from your first application. You’ll have a better idea of what supporting documents you need for research purposes or to submit with your application, including the engineer’s quality management plan (QMP), an organizational chart, and a list of proposed alternative technical concepts and value-added features found in your tech proposal.

    You’ll also have a better idea of whose input you’ll need to include when preparing your submission. If you start collecting the information during the project planning and construction phases, you’ll have it organized and ready when it’s time to apply for next year’s awards. This will save you a lot of time! 

    I can’t guarantee you’ll take home the coveted prize if you follow each of these steps (How do I know if you’ve delivered an outstanding project? JK!), but I’m confident they’ll increase your odds. If it seems like a big commitment, consider the time and energy spent on the DBIA Awards application as a strategic investment in your business development. 

    One final tip — if you win, ask DBIA for an awards badge to add to your project marketing materials. Their stamp of approval will look good on your website, case studies and project sheets! Good luck!

    If you don’t have the bandwidth to prepare a DBIA award submission, you can enlist the help of an AEC public relations agency to craft one on your behalf. Reach out to us at to learn more.


    Post a New Comment


    Your email address will not be published


    • About the Author
      Marja Martinez

      Marja Martinez is a creative storyteller who has spent nearly a decade developing digital content that moves people. Before making the switch to PR, Marja worked as a broadcast journalist writing hard-hitting news stories, creating compelling online content and engaging with thousands of viewers on multiple social media platforms.

      Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

    Get INKsights in your inbox