We asked firms to share how they are using the Framework for Design Excellence, formerly the COTE Top Ten Toolkit, in their practices -- in project work, client conversations, training, awards submittals, storytelling, and in other ways. Here are snapshots from three firms (small, medium, and large).
Lassel Architects: 7 people | South Berwick, ME
Mike Lassel, AIA, of Lassel Architects heard about the Toolkit early on and sent a member of his firm to a workshop about it. “After that, we began to play with it and think about how we could use it in practice. I see this as a design tool and a communications tool,” he says. “We’re using it to do the work and to talk about it. I think if more firms are using it, it will help them meet the 2030 commitment. Overall, I think the 10 measures—the AIA Framework of Design Excellence that is embedded in the Toolkit—could help the public better understand the role of the architect.”
Lassel notes that his firm was preparing to revamp its website when they started learning about and using the Toolkit. “We decided to look at our projects—all of them! —through the COTE measures,” he says. “For each project, we used the 10-measure lens to define the project and show its achievements.”
The Toolkit is designed to be useful to those who are new to sustainable strategies or very experienced. “We have been doing stewardship and sustainability work for a long time,” Lassell says, “and the Toolkit is helping us to define it more clearly and share it more effectively with clients and community members. I think it’s a great way for people to understand the richness of what the architect does.”
Opsis Architecture: 56 people | Portland, OR
Heather DeGrella, AIA, Sustainable Design Director, and Kelli Kimura, Sustainable Design Coordinator, have been rolling out the Toolkit at Opsis Architecture. They learned about the Toolkit when it was being beta tested (and being circulated as a PDF). Opsis applied the 10 measures as categories for its sustainability graphics. This inspired the teams to create measure-driven graphics for projects. Now the team is directly using the Toolkit in project work, both internally and with clients. Leadership has endorsed using the Toolkit framework and the Super Spreadsheet in projects.
“We are seeing different ways that the Toolkit can be helpful,” DeGrella says. “On one project, which is in Design Development now, the Toolkit and the 10 measures served to frame the discussions, both internal and with the client. For this client and project, we were able to explore community engagements in a number of new ways. This is an example of how the Toolkit, and the measures that it is based on, are helping us deepen our approach in specific areas.”
Kimura notes that the Opsis teams are finding that “some clients are receptive to adopting the 10 measures themselves – we support this by introducing them the use of the Toolkit.” The firm is also in the process of updating its already robust Sustainability Action Plan; DeGrella says that they are thinking about how the 10 measures play into the plan, too.
NBBJ | 720 people | Seattle, WA + multiple locations
NBBJ is using the Toolkit in a number of ways, says Margaret Montgomery, FAIA, and Principal at the firm. “We just did our second annual COTE Top Ten Pecha Kucha – a firmwide learning session with multiple offices in several time zones,” she says. “This is a dynamic learning event: 10 studios each took one measure and spent five minutes with project examples and information to explore it. This was really successful.”
The firm encourages studios to use the Top Ten Toolkit on projects. “We want teams to use the toolkit as a guide for early design thinking,” she says, “with various different ways of doing so depending on the group and project type. We do an Annual Review of the Work process where each project submits a single 11x17 snapshot of the project. A short narrative about one or two of the measures is required for this, and that is helping us to see where strengths and blind spots might be in various practices.”
Montgomery appreciates the Toolkit as a team education tool. “I believe that it has clearly enhanced our staff’s understanding of the various topic areas. Year two of the COTE Top Ten Pecha Kucha showed that.”
How is your firm using the Toolkit? We’d love to learn what’s working — and what’s not — and share your story so that other firms can learn. Drop me a line at email@example.com.