There’s no guesswork when it comes to determining whether or not the winners of the AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Awards are sustainable. The proof is in the numbers. Submitted in 10 categories—integration, community, ecology, water, economy, energy, wellness, resources, change, and discovery—the data points demonstrate just how extensively the design teams have reduced the impact of this year’s winning projects on the environment.

These achievements should be celebrated, but they shouldn’t seem out of reach. Instead, the winning projects, which are showcased on the following pages, offer examples of design strategies that every firm can learn from, implement, and achieve.

So it’s fitting that the program’s 10 areas of focus have been expanded upon to form the 10 principles of AIA’s new Framework for Design Excellence. The framework (read more about it on page 69) provides a series of questions that all architects and their clients can discuss at the beginning of the design process to prioritize sustainability. The holistic approach considers not only needed reductions in carbon and energy, but the effect buildings have on the health and equity of the people and communities in and around them.

“This year has put a spotlight on that, with COVID and the communities of color that are so highly impacted,” says AIA President Jane Frederick, FAIA. “When you start looking, you say: ‘No wonder, we have pushed all the pollutants next to low-income communities, which compounds the problem of health.’ Health and racial equity go hand-in-hand with sustainability. If you don’t have healthy communities, you can’t have sustainable communities.”

Building performance is improving—firms signed onto AIA’s 2030 Commitment report an overall pEUI reduction of 49% in 2019—but with the 2030 target for delivering carbon-neutral buildings only a decade away, there is a lot of work yet to do. The framework will help all architects “design not just something that is beautiful, but that is good for the environment,” Frederick says. “That’s just what good design is.” The 2020 COTE Top Ten winners are inspiring case studies.

2020 Jury:

Bob Berkebile, FAIA, BNIM
Roy Decker, FAIA, Duvall Decker
William Horgan, Intl. Assoc. AIA, Grimshaw
Andrea Love, AIA, Payette
Vivian Loftness, FAIA, Carnegie Mellon University

Q+As with the design teams of the 2020 Winners:

Cris Costea

COTE Top 10 Plus AwardEnvironmental Nature Center and Preschool
Newport Beach, Calif.

Dror Baldinger, FAIA

Austin, Texas

Tara Wujcik

The Six
Los Angeles
Brooks + Scarpa

Casey Dunn

Marine Education Center at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
Ocean Springs, Miss.
Lake|Flato Architects, in association with Unabridged Architecture

David Richter

U.S. Land Port of Entry
Columbus, N.M.
Richter Architects

Tom Rossiter

Keller Center—Harris School of Public Policy
Farr Associates and Woodhouse Tinucci Architects

Garrett Rowland

Ford Foundation for Social Justice
New York

Nic Lehoux

Austin Central Library
Austin, Texas
Lake|Flato Architects and Shepley Bulfinch

Ngoc Doan / STIMSON

John. W. Olver Design Building
Amherst, Mass.
Leers Weinzapfel Associates


Garrett Rowland

Etsy Headquarters
New York