AIA Committee on the Environment Studies Award-winning Sustainable Design Projects

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In order to examine how the architectural community is evolving in regards to sustainable design practices, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) undertook an in-depth study of nearly 200 COTE Top Ten Award winning projects encompassing almost 20 years.

The findings have been compiled in a report, Lessons from the Leading Edge, that reviewed a variety of performance measures, including energy efficiency, water conservation and indoor environmental quality to evaluate how these exemplary projects demonstrate COTE’s mission to “enhance both the design quality and environmental performance of the built environment.” The research represents the most comprehensive study of the COTE Top Ten program to date.

“Top Ten winners are an extraordinary group of case studies from the leading edge of sustainable design over the past two decades,” says Lance Hosey, FAIA, lead author of the report and a member of the COTE Advisory Group. “The projects have been studied and published widely as individual projects, but never as a group—until now. What we found is that Top Ten winners are outpacing the industry by virtually every standard of performance, but they also exemplify the integration of design excellence and sustainable performance.”

Key takeaways from report:

  • Many project examples show extraordinary performance at very low or average costs, dispelling the misperception that higher building performance requires higher costs.
  • Projects range in size from small houses under 1,000 square feet to community master plans at millions of square feet.
  • The average energy savings for these projects is 54 percent better than industry standards. In the past five years, the average energy savings has improved to 65 percent, exceeding AIA 2030 Commitment targets.
  • The average water reduction is 52 percent better than industry standards.

The majority of projects are in urban locations, while less than one fifth are found in rural areas. One third of all Top Ten winners are located on the West Coast of North America.
COTE founding chairman, Bob Berkebile, FAIA, adds: “We have seen a significant transformation in how these project examples have evolved and advanced. Initially, the design teams were acutely focused on efficiencies within an individual building and in recent years they are also looking at more horizontal and far-reaching economic, ecological, social equity, public health and resilient outcomes.”

Recommendations for architecture and design industry:

  • Embrace design before technology to improve performance and quality.
  • Study best practices for higher performance at lower costs.
  • Pursue post-occupancy evaluations as standard practice to understand better how actual performance aligns with design intent.
  • Promote more ambitious adaptive reuse projects to preserve existing building stock and conserve resources more extensively.
  • Drive greater awareness of the health impact of building materials and need for better indoor air quality.

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AIA Committee on the Environment Studies Award-winning Sustainable Design Projects
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