Last February, the results of the Washington Area Inter-School design competition were announced, and architectural students of the area had a chance to meet with the five eminent judges who had decided the contest. The celebration was brightened by the prominent attention given to the contest in the Style section of The Post Feb. 16.

Benjamin Forgey, one of the judges, used his column, "Cityscape," to tell how the students, given the assignment of designing a new entrance to the Smithsonian Metro station within a week's time, had done so well. Accompanying the article was the third- place drawing captioned, "A prize-winning design for the Smithsonian Metro station by Norris McLeod of the Cornell Center in Washington."

Readers may have wondered why the drawings of the first-and second- place winners were not used. Mr. Forgey said that, after consultation with the photography department, it was determined that they would not reproduce well. The ombudsman received a polite complaint about the choice of illustration from the University of Maryland, which produced the first- and second-prize winners, Stephen Wilczynski and Leila Snider.

But a few days later, Mr. Forgey and the ombudsman received a letter complaining not only about the choice of illustration but that the third-place winner was a plagiarist. In newspaper circles this is a dread word, and the letter set off a chain of events.

The letter enclosed a textbook sketch of the Lucerne, Switzerland, railroad station archway. When placed side by side with the illustration as reproduced in The Post any layman could see that the two were related. The student version had added the name of the Smithsonian station and giant "M's" on each pillar and had suggested some trusses and trains.

The seven area colleges with architectural courses take turns each year managing the competition, and this year's sponsors were the Washington- Alexandria Center of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Profs. Jaan Holt and Gregory Hunt communicated with the Cornell Center director in Washington, Prof. Mario L. Schack, who firmly rejected the charge of plagiarism. His students were trained "to develop design skills based on a knowledge of the past."

The dispute was complicated by the fact that The Post sketch was only one part of a larger layout by the student, and there was no question raised about the other elements presented in the plan for a free-standing entrance, a train shed and a caf,e-museum on the site. The Cornell director, in responding to the complaint, explained that "in keeping with the Beaux Arts influence on the Mall, a tripartite Beaux Arts image was used. That this is a copy of a portion of the interior of the hall of the railroad station of Lucerne was neither referenced or denied."

Last Thursday, the five judges reconvened. Though they were still impressed by the originality of the Cornell entry, they felt they had been misled by the failure to cite the Lucerne station. They decided to let the $200 prize stand but reprimanded the student for not crediting the Lucerne source. They also urged future contest sponsors to institute new rules.

And Prof. Schack of Cornell has now written, "To satisfy criticism, Norris McLeod's design will carry a reference to the Lucerne station in future publications." Columnist Forgey said that after this experience, he will be happy to limit his participation to covering competitions and commenting on them, but not judging. The VPI professors were not dismayed -- they said a book is in preparation on the competition, which drew 120 entries, and the Lucerne station will be duly noted.

Case closed, but one observer can't help wondering if all this would have happened if The Post had printed a sketch from the first-or second- place winner instead.