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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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Clients Using the Framework + Toolkit: City of Madison, Wisconsin

By Kira L. Gould Hon. AIA posted 05-18-2020 12:44 PM



The City of Madison, Wisconsin, Taps Framework/Toolkit for Robust Dialogue and Project Results 

by Kira Gould 


The COTE Top Ten Toolkit -- guidelines organized around the 10 measures launched in early 2019 -- was created to support design teams and their clients -- for projects of any scale, any type, in any region. A number of clients have embraced the Toolkit and the Framework (AIA adopted the COTE Measures, the backbone of the Toolkit, as the Framework for Design Excellence in late 2019) and report powerful results.  


The City of Madison, Wis., uses the Toolkit and Framework on multiple projects. Leaders are enthusiastic about its impact on the process and the results. The City of Madison staff includes a reference to the tool in project RFPs.  


Jon Evans, a City of Madison engineer and the building design project manager, says the Engineering Division’s Facility Management team uses the framework and toolkit in its design process because it helps the team focus the project.  


“I was drawn to the Toolkit because of the 10 categories and their open-ended questions, which I find very appropriate to the design process,” he says. “Specifically, these questions are helping us define what is important for the project, which leads to more creativity and brainstorming during the design process.  


The City has been using LEED Certification, and the Fire Department in particular has been enthusiastic about LEED for years. But Evans said, “The Toolkit is not something we are using instead of LEED. It’s a process tool to support the robust design process we think is necessary to make each project the best it can be.”  


A recent example of a project that benefitted from both the Toolkit and LEED is the City of Madison Fire Station 14, which is LEED Platinum Certified, and was designed by OPN Architects. Tate Walker, AIA, who is one of the principal co-authors and organizers of the original Toolkit, led the OPN team.  


“For this project,” Evans says, “the Toolkit helped us to get the entire team thinking differently about a number of issues, including site and ecology, and health and wellbeing. It also helped us broaden conversations with subconsultants.” 


Evans says that the Design for Wellness section prompted a very productive conversation. “We had management and labor representatives involved in the process,” he says, “and the framing of these issues helped us find agreement on a range of issues including connections to nature, air quality, and outdoor spaces.” 


The City of Madison has a protocol called Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiatives (RESJI) that is a part of all public projects. This program includes tools that City employees use to facilitate consideration of equity and how communities of color and low-income populations will be impacted by a proposed action of the City. “It was interesting to see how RESJI found a place in the Toolkit under Design for Equitable Community,” architect Tate Walker says. Evans notes that these conversations enabled the group to think carefully about the station and reconsider some programming based on the fact that it’s at the edge of town (where there are few other civic services yet). They decided this station should have more public facilities but also more training facilities to bring firefighters from elsewhere in the city and beyond. “Those shifts,” Evans says, “came about because of how we collectively explored the Design for Equitable Community questions. For a topic like this, we need this to be an open-ended conversation, and then that the results of those conversations are embedded in the project.”  


The City is in the process of updating its ordinance requiring civic facilities to be LEED Certified. “We are thinking about encouraging Net Zero, recommending the use of the Framework and Toolkit, and connecting those to LEED, which we continue to see as an important Certification,” Evans says. 


There are lots of systems out there, says Walker, “but the Toolkit and Framework are free, accessible, and everyone understands them. It’s great to see the City of Madison using the narratives and the calculations in many different ways. While we were building the Toolkit, we hoped that clients and owners -- not just architects -- would find it a valuable resource and easy to apply. Madison is showing exactly how well that can work.”  


Related Reading: Top Ten Ways to Exceed Client Expectations, by Tate Walker, AIA (from COTE News, May 2019) 

photo: Fire Station 14, City of Madison, Wisconsin, designed by OPN Architects. credit: Wayne Johnson, Main Street Studio

Fire Station 14, City of Madison, Wisconsin. OPN Architects. Wayne Johnson, Main Street Studio