IDEAS² Competition Rules and Guidelines

The 2024 IDEAS² Awards are now accepting entries! The deadline is September 30, 2023.


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What does innovation mean to you?

Steel has a unique ability to bring complex design visions to life quickly, efficiently, and sustainably. 

The American Institute of Steel Construction’s Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel (IDEAS²) Award program recognizes projects that illustrate the exciting possibilities of building with structural steel.

And this year, we’re shaking things up to reflect the state of innovation in the industry.

We’re looking for exceptional projects that demonstrate how domestically fabricated structural steel fosters superior:

  • Engineering excellence;

  • Architectural excellence;

  • Adaptive reuse;

  • Sustainability; and

  • Constructability.

What’s at stake? Winners will be invited to present their project to the industry at the Architecture in Steel conference, which is incorporated into NASCC: The Steel Conference (March 20 to 22, 2024, in San Antonio, Texas). They’ll also be featured in the May 2024 issue of Modern Steel Construction magazine and in other AISC media throughout the year.

What are the IDEAS² Awards?

Sponsored by AISC, the IDEAS² Awards showcase the innovative use of structural steel in:

  • the accomplishment of the structure's program

  • the expression of architectural intent

  • the application of innovative design approaches to the structural system

  • leveraging productivity-enhancing construction methods

AISC’s award programs have celebrated landmark structures built with structural steel since 1960. These architectural icons span generations and stand the test of time. AISC recognizes and promotes these projects in recognition of their impact in terms of structural innovation, advances in safety, benefit to the local community, and environmental consciousness.

While many of the winners are landmark structures, the awards program also honors smaller, less well-known projects. What all of the winners share is a commitment to innovation and imaginative design!

What you'll need to enter

Be sure to have the following on hand to fill out the entry form:

  • information and a contact person for all of the companies that made a substantive contribution to the design’s innovation, including the owner, architect, structural engineer, general contractor, steel fabricator, steel detailer, bender/roller (if applicable), steel erector, and other key consultants.

  • what makes your project an example of innovative design and construction excellence. Click here to preview the questions on the entry form.

  • 3-20 print-quality images that show off the project and its most exciting features. AISC recommends a selection of completed exterior, interior, and construction/fabrication shots as well as technical drawings and renderings. Images must include photo credit information and should be jpg, tiff, or eps files that are at least four inches wide at 300 dpi. The full rules listed below include a suggested photo list and additional technical information.

There is no fee to enter the competition.

How it works

A panel of professionals from the design and construction industries will weigh entries and award five IDEAS² Awards for:

  • Excellence in Engineering - for projects that take full advantage of the flexibility of a steel structural system and demonstrate the use of new design and construction techniques

  • Excellence in Architecture - for projects that use structural steel to create breathtaking structures that inspire and serve the communities around them

  • Excellence in Sustainable Design and Construction - for projects that use design and construction methods that reduce a project’s carbon footprint

  • Excellence in Adaptive Reuse - for projects that capitalize on how easy it is to use steel to give a structure a second life

  • Excellence in Constructability - for projects that utilize innovative design, project management, and construction methods that simplify, economize, and speed up the design and construction of steel buildings

A single project can compete in multiple categories.

Who can enter

  • Any member of a project's team can submit it for an IDEAS² award. However, a fabricator, erector, detailer, or other firm eligible for AISC Full or Associate membership submitting a project themselves must be an AISC member in good standing at the time of entry.

  • New buildings, expansions, and renovation projects (major retrofits and rehabilitations) are eligible.

  • Building projects in the 2024 competition must be located in the U.S. and must be completed (either occupied or ready for occupancy) between January 1, 2022, and August 31, 2023.

  • At least 50% of the structural steel for the project must have been produced and fabricated in the U.S. by a company eligible for AISC full membership, or a unique or distinctive feature of the project must have been fabricated by a company eligible for AISC full membership, in a facility located in the U.S.

  • A significant portion of the framing system of a building must be wide-flange or hollow structural steel sections (HSS).

  • Pedestrian bridges entered in the competition must be an intrinsic part of a building and not stand-alone structures. If you would like to submit a bridge project, we encourage you to enter the National Steel Bridge Alliance's 2024 Prize Bridge Awards.

What you’ll need

The online form will include space for you to tell us what makes your project special. In preparing to enter, we suggest you think about the following:

  • how your project advances the use of structural steel, either technically or in architectural expression

  • how using architecturally exposed structural steel (AESS) and coordinating structural steel elements with other materials elevated the aesthetic impact of the project 

  • how your project applied innovative design approaches in areas such as connections, gravity systems, lateral load resisting systems, fire protection, and blast protection

  • how innovative design and construction methods such as 3D building models, interoperability, early integration of steel fabricators, modular or prefab design, alternative methods of project delivery, and sustainability or resiliency considerations improved your project

  • how implementing new and evolving principles and tools that drive the progression of modern design and project planning, such as data-driven design and the use of technology such as drones, VR, and AR for design and construction review

The written descriptions and the images you submit should give the judges a sound understanding of the general characteristics of your project and the specific way in which it demonstrates innovation in one or more of the following categories: engineering, architecture, adaptive reuse, sustainability, and/or constructability. These descriptions will also help AISC promote your project if it wins!

The descriptions should not repeat what is already clear from the graphic submission but it should include project intentions—program requirements, site features, cost data, etc.

Image criteria

Your entry must include photographs and graphics that show off your project and provide an adequate basis for a sound and comprehensive evaluation of the structure and its design. 

AISC suggests that a selection of exterior, interior, and steel construction/fabrication images—all with photo credit information—accompany each entry. Technical drawings and renderings can also be helpful. 

At least one photo must clearly show the completed project.

A thorough image submission for a given project would include:

  • at least one image showing each exposed side of the building or environment

  • at least one additional image showing the immediate context of each exposed side of the building or environs (omit if the project's relationship to its environs is clearly defined in other images)

  • for a group of buildings, at least one image of the project that is sufficient to illustrate the concept and scale, including its relationship to its environs

  • for projects involving exterior alterations, at least one image of each altered (exposed side) together with at least one image of the side before alteration (unless evidence is submitted on the unavailability of the latter)

  • a site plan, floor plan, and one or more sections that explain the project solution

Technical details:

  • Images should be high-resolution (at least 300 dpi), at least four inches wide, and submitted as jpeg, tiff, or eps files.

  • You may submit up to 20 images per entry.

  • All images must include credit information in the filename. (Example: Willis Tower exterior-creditJohnSmith.jpg)

What you should know about entering

  • Entrants agree to abide by all rules and regulations of AISC's IDEAS² Awards program as defined in this document. AISC is not responsible for errors or omissions in entries.

  • Firms may submit multiple building projects. Each entry will be considered separately. If multiple firms enter the same project, judges will evaluate the entries together; all submitting firms will be recognized should that project win.

  • By entering, you grant AISC permission to disclose information about the recipient of the award and the building project, including budget and cost details.

  • Firms that worked on submitted projects should expect to be asked for additional information and commentary about their projects by representatives of AISC and the media. Members of the project’s steel team who are AISC members in good standing at the time of the announcement will be recognized; AISC will recognize other firms on the AEC team at its discretion.

  • AISC will make every effort to include all AISC members in good standing who were involved with winning projects, but omissions happen. Please notify us of errors as soon as possible.

  • Submitted photographs and images used for exhibition or publication purposes will bear the customary photograph credit line provided, however, AISC is not responsible for errors or omissions. AISC reserves the right to use all submitted materials indefinitely to showcase the winning projects, feature innovation in the structural steel industry, and promote the IDEAS² program. Submitting an entry to AISC constitutes acceptance of this policy by firms, companies, and project photographers and indicates or confirms that these submitting parties have copyright ownership or express permission to submit them; that they grant AISC a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive license to publicly display, distribute, and/or reproduce the submitted materials in any media; and that they agree to hold AISC harmless from and against all claims of any nature arising in connection with the submittal of materials.

Questions about anything you've read here?

Please contact Megan Erickson or Dani Friedland for assistance.

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