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The Committee on the Environment (COTE®) is an AIA Knowledge Community working for architects, allied professionals, and the public to achieve climate action and climate justice through design. We believe that design excellence is the foundation of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future. Our work promotes design strategies that empower all AIA members to realize the best social and environmental outcomes with the clients and the communities they serve.

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To learn about the Framework for Design Excellence (formerly the COTE Top Ten Measures), click here.

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Starting a local COTE or sustainability group and need some guidance? Check out the AIA COTE Network Resources here.

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Founding sponsors: Building Green
Premier sponsors: Sherwin-Williams, Stantec
Sustaining sponsors: GAF Roofing, Milliken, Andersen Windows,
BlueScope Buildings
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Allied sponsors: TLC Engineering, Sierra Pacific Windows

2023 COTE Top Ten Award Submissions: Q&A

By Eana Bacchiocchi posted 09-26-2022 03:46 PM


This page contains common questions and answers for submitting to the COTE Top Ten award cycle. Have more specific questions? Join us for office hours below or email us at! For general questions on AIA awards, please see Honors and Awards FAQ page.

-Wednesday, November 9th, 3-4pm ET
Register now >
-Wednesday, December 1st, 2-3pm ET
Register now >

Q: I’m confused by the image requirements. Do I really need one image per Framework for Design Excellence (FDE) principle? What if some of the principles don’t apply to my project? What if I can’t get photos of every major space?

A: Top Ten images serve two purposes: 1) to orient jurors to a project’s scope, its placement within and relationship to its larger context (both social and environmental), and to the final design resolution; and 2) to illustrate how sustainability drove the design and delivered positive results. A one-to-one correspondence between images and every FDE principle is not a requirement; however, jurors will be reviewing entries through the FDE lens, so referencing relevant FDE principles where appropriate will expedite their review. Not every project will have exemplary performance in every FDE principle. Keep in mind that jurors review a lot of images, narratives, and data; if an image does not support your main argument or provide critical information for understanding the design, we suggest that you don’t include it.  

Q: How do announcement images relate to what is in the submission .pdf?  

A: Announcement images are the images AIA uses in publishing winners on its website. They can be duplicates of what is in the submission .pdf. It is recommended that announcement images are the project’s most compelling photos, without words or drawings. Jurors will not review announcement images, just what is in the submission .pdf.

Q: What materials will jurors review?

A: Jurors will have the submission .pdf (of images), the project’s Super Spreadsheet, a .pdf of the inputs to the online submission form which summarizes metrics, and a copy of the review comments from the technical jurors. Technical jurors will have the same information, plus any uploaded performance modeling reports or supporting documentation.

Q: What is the difference between average and peak occupancy? How should teams calculate these?

A: Per the LEED v4 BD+C reference guide, daily averages take into account all of the occupants of a given type for a typical 24-hour day of operation (reflected in the default occupancy counts provided in Appendix 2). Peak occupancy is measured at the moment in a typical 24-hour period when the highest number of occupants are present—a best guess at the number of people present during the busiest time (Source: LEED User). If you do not know the project’s occupancy, please use the LEED v4, BD+C, Appendix 2. Default occupancy counts

Q: What if my project is international or located outside of the continental United States and Hawaii?

The Super Spreadsheet calculations are based on the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), which is also the basis of the 2030 Challenge. This survey only includes properties within the continental United States and Hawaii, and does not include data from properties in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, nor American Samoa.  The American Institute of Architects has developed an International Location to U.S. Equivalent Zip Code table,  which illustrates how cities around the world can be matched to a U.S. zip code in a comparable climate zone. Architecture 2030 is in the process of incorporating international baselines from IFC’s EDGE directly into the Zero Tool.

For the AIA 2023 COTE Top Ten, teams with projects that are not in continental United States and Hawaii have two options for accommodating this within the Super Spreadsheet:


  1.  Use the ZIP Code equivalencies table to identify a US city in an equivalent climate zone and enter the results in the ZIP Code field on the Introduction tab. This will autofill energy and operational carbon emissions benchmark data from 2003 CBECS data for that climate zone in the United States.
  2. If teams researched local benchmarks, enter benchmarks in the "user-defined" fields of the Introduction tab.

In both cases, please explain how you’ve accommodated this in the “Nonconformity Statement” field at the bottom of the Introduction Tab.