Moving Towards Design that Supports Climate Action

By Anne Schopf FAIA posted 08-26-2019 02:28 PM


By Anne Schopf, FAIA, and Corey Squire, AIA

In May 2019, the AIA Board convened in Washington D.C. for a facilitated session around a multi-year strategy to position the AIA and the profession of architecture as a leading voice on the forefront of issues as they relate to the built environment. Specifically, the AIA will begin to focus many of its programs and member groups around reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the built environment. This will highlight issues like regenerative design, sustainability, and resilience as part of the daily practice of 94,000 members. It has been unofficially called “The Big Move.”

In parallel and in support of the board’s activities, a grassroots effort emerged to craft a resolution on climate action to be presented at AIA’19 for a vote by the membership. When brought to the floor at conference, the delegates overwhelmingly approved the “AIA Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Climate Action.”, with 93% voting in favor. The resolution consisted of three major actions from AIA:

  • Declare an urgent climate imperative for carbon reduction;
  • Transform the day-to-day practice of architects to achieve a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient and healthy built environment; and 
  • Leverage support of our peers, clients, policy makers, and the public at large.

In September, in support of this resolution and  “The Big Move,” the AIA Board will be presented the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, based closely on  the COTE Top Ten Measures that includes 10 areas of focus of ethical and responsible design:  Integration, Equitable Communities, Ecology, Water, Economy, Energy, Wellness, Resources, Change, and Discovery.  The Framework for Design Excellence will guide the AIA in their strategic planning efforts and will provide a powerful tool to the membership. As the AIA begins its work, it will initially focus on Designing for Economy, Energy, and Equitable Communities.

Because design awards are the vehicle that the profession uses to recognize excellence, COTE created an Awards Common Application or “common app” to be beta tested by AIA local and Knowledge Community programs.  The application continues to ask for project data, such as cost and size, but it also asks additional questions that focus on project performance from the Framework for Design Excellence.

COTE’s goal for the Common App is to provide a single application site for project data upload. This single location would ease the burden on firms entering multiple programs as well as serve as a single platform to gather project performance data that could eventually contribute to a national or global database. The database will help track the progress our profession is making in areas such as carbon neutrality, water conservation, healthy materials, and resiliency.

Consisting of predominantly Yes/No questions, the initial version of the Common App was generously Beta tested by the 2019 AIA Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) awards program. There were concerns that asking for detailed information would be a deterrent to entering the awards programs. We carefully analyzed the impact of the additional questions and found it had no impact on submissions related to number, or geography.

Prior to the launch of a fully operational Common App, further testing will be required to assure that the needs of a variety of constituents and project types are being met. To that end, we are currently in the second round of Beta testing with improvements based upon feedback from the CAE jury process. The updated Common App was presented at the AIA Leadership Assembly (KLA) held in August in Denver, CO and was well received. Additional Knowledge Communities have agreed to Beta test the App on their next awards program and the revised format is being utilized by AIA San Antonio for their awards program this fall. We are looking for additional volunteers at the local and regional level to participate in this second round of Beta Testing.

Throughout 2019, any AIA components or AIA Knowledge Communities interested in more information on the future of the Common App can reach out to 

Schopf, design partner at Mahlum, is a dedicated champion of quality design and a tireless promoter of rich design dialogue through professional activism at the national, regional and local level. Anne served on the AIA national Committee on Design (COD) Advisory Group where she served as 2011 chair and now serves on the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Advisory Group. 

Squire is an architect and advocate for sustainable design. He led sustainability efforts at two AIA Firm-Award winning firms and is currently splitting his time between Positive Energy and Dept. of Sustainability, his sustainable design consultancy. As a member of the AIA Committee on the Environment Advisory Group, Corey co-led the development of the COTE Top Ten Toolkit.



09-06-2019 08:38 AM

I also commend the COTE on facilitating this process to align the common application, and hope that all of the knowledge communities will join the effort with equal vigor.  There is a terrific opportunity here to align historic preservation efforts with sustainability, particularly of mid-century modern buildings.

09-03-2019 08:50 AM

This is great. I hope that the AIA passes this resolution. Aligning the Top Ten measures for all awards will do a lot to prove to standard practice that sustainable design is good design and there is no excuse for not thinking about our built environment as integral to our survival and our planet's biosphere. Good design practice and holistic design thinking can greatly contribute to our health and economy.