Defining Design Excellence | Measure 1: Design for Integration

By Kira L. Gould posted 10-16-2019 10:30


In September, the AIA formally adopted the COTE measures as the AIA Framework for Design Excellence; in this issue and for the nine to follow, we discuss the measures that make up the Framework. Measure 1, Design for Integration, emphasizes that design and performance should be completely integrated, both in process and in result. 

As Lance Hosey wrote in his book, The Shape of Green: Aesthetics, Ecology, and Design (Island Press, 2012), “We don’t love something because it’s nontoxic and biodegradable -- we love it because it moves the head and the heart.” Designing that which has the power to move the head and the heart is what measure 1 is all about.

The AIA Framework for Design Excellence is written as a set of 10 measures. These are very different from design guidelines (such as those that track to sustainability rating systems); they are a construct for open dialogue that leads to a deeply integrated design solution. Each measure includes questions to inspire inquiry and encourage teams to address concepts of culture and place. The language is accessible; the measures are an ideal framework for conversations between architects, clients, consultants, and stakeholders. Measure 1 reads: 

What is the big idea behind this project and how did the approach towards sustainability inform the design concept? Describe the project, program, and any unique challenges and opportunities. Specifically explain how the design is shaped around the project’s goal and performance criteria, providing utility, beautify, and delight. How does the project engage al the senses for all its users, and connect people to place? What makes this building one that people will fight to preserve? Give examples of how individual design strategies provide multiple benefits across the full triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental value. 

We asked a few architects to share their thoughts on the importance of measure one in their practices and teaching.

Bob Harris, FAIA, of Lake | Flato Architects; the firm has won Top Ten Awards 11 times, and his firm’s design teams use the measures as a reference point. “Too often, sustainability is seen as something that can be compartmentalized,” he says. “Measure 1 unifies the project into one meaningful idea. This measure insists that you tackle the ‘why’ of the project. And on some projects this has a direct trajectory to project aims. For the Austin Central Library, we wound up articulating a set of project aspirations that included things like ‘become Austin’s living room’ and ‘be the best daylit library in the world.’ “ 

Harris points out that the measures, and especially measure 1, insist that teams consider the “why”  of the project with rigor and care. “Our goal isn’t just to design things,” he says. “The goal is to meet the client requirements and also to contribute something meaningful in the larger community. We have to be asking ourselves, at the beginning, and then all the way through the project: What does this project contribute or achieve that is beyond program and makes a difference? I think this goes to every design endeavor and to our responsibility to use design thinking to improve our  environments. If we want to continually do better, we have to think more deeply about the core ideas.”

Alison Kwok, FAIA, LEED BD+C, CPHC, is a professor at the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture; students from that program have participated in the Top Ten Student Competition since its inaugural year, 2014–2015. “We use the measures in studio and seminar courses,” Kwok says. “Measure 1, Design for Integration, represents the multi-layer approach to addressing the environment as a part of the design investigation. The measure challenges design teams to understand climatic conditions and respond with design strategies that work toward building environments that are beautiful, delightful, healthy, resilient, and economically durable.”

Matthew Winkelstein, AIA, is a Senior Architectural Design Leader at SERA Architects’ Bay Area office. “I believe that the greatest value we can bring is to create buildings that people love and want to care for and improve over time,” he says. “We are most likely to achieve that outcome with idea-driven design and an integration mindset. For me, these two things form the essence of measure 1. I define idea-driven design as designing with purpose and intent. An integration mindset is thinking holistically about a building or site as an integrated system where design and technical solutions are synergistic.”

Winkelstein sees the Framework, and measure 1, as distinct from many sustainability checklists (that so often turn off designers). “Measure 1 encourages teams to think about elements of design, such as delight and beauty, at the same time as thinking about systems and resources. The benefits to the project are many. We are more likely to drive ideas through to the final outcome when they are rooted in the big idea.” 

The Minneapolis firm Snow Kreilich, winner of the 2018 AIA Firm Award, won a COTE Top Ten Award in 2014. Julie Snow, FAIA, has also served on the COTE Top Ten jury. “Design for Integration is what great design is really about,” Snow says. “This measure is a provocation to get the team to the overarching ideas that connect all the project conditions and opportunities. What this is really asking, of course, is how do you create a building that is loved? Settings that allow for human connection are the ones we remember and care for over time.” 

Snow notes that her teams use the measures at the beginning of projects to frame early discussions. “This measure encourages teams to explore how the project story supports a broad range of performance aspects -- how it operates economically, what social aims it is serving, and more,” she says. “The building’s story, of course, extends into a future we cannot know: Will it be durable and adaptable enough? Is it designed for resilience? Will it be a reliable, long-term asset to its community, even as its use may evolve?”