In 2010, Vanity Fair asked 90 leading designers, critics, and instructors in the field of architecture to pick the “greatest buildings of the past 30 years.” Given the lack of exemplary green projects in the final list, sustainability did not seem all that important to the architectural elite at the time. In response, I asked 150 sustainable-design experts to pick what, in their opinion, was the “greenest buildings of the past 30 years” for my then-column in ARCHITECT. If Vanity Fair had documented architecture’s A-List projects, this group of 122 projects could be considered the profession’s G-List.
The differences between the surveys were dramatic. Not one building appeared on both lists, and no American architects had projects on both lists. Of the two architects whose work made both lists—Italian Renzo Piano, Hon. FAIA, and Briton Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA—Vanity Fair featured their older, less environmentally progressive work. Clearly, standards of design excellence and environmental performance didn’t match, and what were deemed to be the greatest buildings of the time were far from the greenest.
Six years later, have architects made any progress in bringing the two standards together? This was one of the questions we set out to address in Lessons from the Leading Edge, a report I authored for the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) that was released on April 4. Since 1997, the COTE Top Ten Awards—unlike either the A-List or the G-List—have celebrated projects that demonstrate both design excellence and sustainable performance.
The report studies the 189 Top Ten winners from the past two decades to assess COTE’s longstanding goal of “making environmental considerations and sustainable design integral to the practice of architecture.” As part of this effort, the research team—which included myself and members of the COTE Advisory Group, among others—wanted to identify projects that integrate good design and green design in particularly compelling ways. We used two methods to study this.
First, we looked for any project that has won both a Top Ten Award and an AIA Institute Honor Award, the latter of which the Institute describes as “the profession’s highest recognition of works that exemplify excellence in architecture, interior architecture, and urban design.” The Institute had never compared the two lists, and we found 13 projects that have won both awards.
Projects Receiving Both a COTE Top Ten Award and Institute Honor Award
TOP TEN AWARD
|2014||2011||US Land Port of Entry||Snow Kreilich|
|2013||2014*||Pearl Brewery / Full Goods Warehouse***||Lake | Flato|
|2011||2010||Step Up on 5th***||Brooks + Scarpa|
|2011||2013||Vancouver Convention Centre West***||LMN|
|2010||2014**||355 11th Street***||Aidlin Darling|
|2009||2009||Charles Hostler Student Center||VJAA|
|2009||2009||World Headquarters for IFAW||DesignLAB|
|2007||2008||Heifer International Headquarters***||Polk Stanley Wilcox|
and Neighborhood Center***
|Bohlin Cywinski Jackson|
|2006||2007||Solar Umbrella House***||Brooks + Scarpa|
|2006||2007||World Birding Center Headquarters***||Lake | Flato|
|2005||2006||Lloyd Crossing Sustainability Plan***||Mithun|
|2004||2003||Colorado Court Affordable Housing||Brooks + Scarpa|
*Institute Honor Award for Urban Design, Pearl Brewery Redevelopment Master Plan
**Institute Honor Award for Interiors, Bar Agricole
***Projects also picked by this report's Measure | Committee
All but one of the 13 projects were awarded in the decade before 2015, and five have been awarded since 2010, when the A-List and the G-List came out. The increasing frequency of projects winning both awards could suggest that the two standards are becoming increasingly aligned.
Yet, does winning both a Top Ten Award and an Institute Honor Award necessarily demonstrate the integration of sustainable performance and design excellence? The Institute Honor Awards jury comments for the 13 projects that won both awards are about evenly divided: seven mentioned some aspect of sustainability or performance as a measure of success, and six did not. AIA COTE past chair Bill Leddy, FAIA, who has won both awards for different projects, tells me, “Achieving fully integrated design excellence is a more difficult accomplishment than simply making a beautiful building.” A project can perform well and look good for very different reasons, while an integrative approach uses design strategies to achieve both.
So for our second method of finding compelling examples of good design and green design, we invited 12 past Top Ten Awards judges to each pick the 10 best examples of the integration of design and performance from among the 189 past winners. Voters were not allowed to pick their own projects. Sixty-two projects received at least one vote, 16 received two, and 14 received three or more nods.
COTE Top Ten Winners Receiving Three or More Votes by Former Top Ten Judges
|WIN YEAR||PROJECT||DESIGN FIRM||VOTES|
|2014||Packard Foundation Headquarters||EHDD||7|
|2014||Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building Modernization||SERA||6|
|2007||Sidwell Friends School||KieranTimberlake||5|
|2012||ASU Polytechnic Academic District||Lake | Flato||5|
|2015||The Bullitt Center||Miller Hull||4|
|2014||John & Frances Angelos Law Center||Behnisch||4|
|2011||Vancouver Convention Centre West*||LMN||4|
|2010||355 11th Street*||Aidlin Darling||4|
|2010||Omega Center for Sustainable Living||BNIM||3|
|2009||Portola Valley Town Center||Siegel & Strain||3|
|2007||Government Canyon Visitor Center||Lake | Flato||3|
|2006||World Birding Center Headquarters*||Lake | Flato||3|
|2006||Solar Umbrella House*||Brooks + Scarpa||3|
*These projects also won an AIA Institute Honor Award.
Fourteen projects received three or more votes, and they were all built in the past decade, suggesting again that architects are getting better at integrating sustainability and design. The most common design strategies with this group of projects are the optimization of solar orientation, fenestration, and shading—all of which contribute to both architectural character and environmental performance.
The only project picked by a majority of the judges was the David and Lucile Packard Foundation Headquarters, in Los Altos, Calif. The design architect, EHDD, aligned the building with the street grid, 40 degrees off true north, in order to be “good neighbors,” according to the firm’s submission for the Top Ten Award. The building then was shaped to compensate for this less-than-optimal solar orientation, with the massing, roof overhangs, and exterior blinds adjusted to minimize solar heat gain. The length, width, and height of the central courtyard are proportioned to create a comfortable scale and microclimate. Ultimately, the building achieved net-zero energy, and occupants now report that the courtyard and adjacent common spaces have noticeably improved their quality of life and sense of community.
“Our designs begin with solving the problem at hand, and that’s the starting point for any aesthetic considerations,” EHDD's design principal for the Packard Foundation Marc L’Italien, FAIA, tells me. “A formal expression that thwarts the client mission or compromises building performance is not pursued. Obviously, the outcome is wildly unpredictable, which is why our work has no stylistic signature.”
This is a common theme among design firms that have won both Top Ten and Institute Honor awards. “Consistently for us, good design means good performance,” says Angela Brooks, FAIA, principal of Brooks + Scarpa, which has three projects that have won both a Top Ten Award and an Institute Honor Award. “We have never separated the two.”
While these firms and projects are exceptional demonstrations of integrating design and performance, the 13 buildings that have won both Top Ten Awards and Institute Honor Awards account for only 7 percent of all Top Ten winners and 5 percent of all Honor Award winners since 1997. In other words, of all the projects the AIA has awarded for either design or performance, very, very few have been celebrated for both.
In 2014, after years of COTE lobbying the AIA Board, the Institute voted to require Honor Award submissions to include basic performance metrics such as energy and water consumption. However, it is not clear how many project teams are providing this information, and the award juries are not obligated to consider it in their deliberations.
Metropolis magazine once asked its readers, “When will all design need to incorporate sustainable practices to be considered ‘good design?’” Over 80 percent said it would happen within eight to nine years; of those respondents, half said within two to three years. That was in 2002. The original G-List revealed that this hadn’t happened by 2010, and, if our new COTE research is any indication, the majority of designers still appear to be struggling with this aim today.
As a practical guide, Lessons from the Leading Edge can help more architects integrate design and performance in cost-effective ways, and the projects featured above demonstrate an exciting path forward.