By 11 a.m. here at the 2011 Architectural & Interior Design Showcase judging, being held at the International Interior Design Association offices in Chicago, our meeting room is a cacophony of sound.

Our 20+ jury members are getting into the thick of it after having the morning to weed out their favorites of the dozens of projects submitted for the special section that appears annually in HEALTHCARE DESIGN’s September issue (Check out the 2010 awards here).

From the sounds of it, some debate is fueling as favorites are narrowed down into contenders for the ultimate prize—Citation of Merit.

For anyone who thinks it’s an easy process to make the cut, being a fly on the wall may prove otherwise. “That’s absurd” and “There’s nothing exceptional there” were a couple comments that were aired during the discussion, as well as notations like “very sterile, sharp edges” and “no personality.”

One of my favorites? “That lobby looks like an Embassy Suites lobby.” The even bigger question? Considering the shift toward more hospitality-inspired interior spaces, is that a bad thing?

I’ve observed projects being weighed based on hot topics like wayfinding, exposure to natural light, views of nature, and sustainability in addition to landscaping, color selection, and the story behind the facility project.

And while the critiques continue here in Chicago, there’s no mistaking when one of our groups finds something that they like: “Now this is interesting.”