Committee on the Environment


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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.

If you missed the 2020 Top Ten Toast, download a recording here

A big thank you to our partners: 
Founding partner: Building Green
Sustaining partners: Lucifer Lighting Company, Kingspan
Green partners: AutodeskEPIC MetalsHKS,  ROCKWOOL, WRNSSkanska, Thornton Thomasseti
Allied partners: BNIM, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, LMN David Baker Architects, Integral

Supporting partners: Humanscale, Mahlum, BPKC, Opsis

GAF x COTE: Looking at the Future

This 2019 video was compiled by GAF, a COTE sponsor. 

Liz York: Defining Design Excellence | Measure 7: Design for Wellness

By Kira L. Gould posted 06-12-2020 07:46 PM


Defining Design Excellence | Measure 7: Design for Wellness 

In 2019, the AIA adopted the COTE measures as the AIA Framework for Design Excellence. We’ve been exploring the measures in a series of posts. We asked Liz York, FAIA, LEED AP, from the Office of Safety, Security, and Asset Management (OSSAM) at the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), to share her thoughts about Measure 7: Design for Wellness which reads: 

Sustainable design supports comfort, health, and wellness for the people who inhabit or visit buildings. Describe strategies for optimizing daylight; indoor air quality; connections to the outdoors; and thermal, visual, and acoustical comfort for occupants and others inside and outside the building. How does the design promote the health of the occupants? Describe design elements intended to promote activity or exercise, access to healthy food choices, etc. Outline any material health strategies, including any materials selection criteria based on third-party chemicals of concern lists, such as Living Building Challenge Red List, EPA chemicals of concern, etc. Include key results on occupant comfort from occupant satisfaction surveys. 

"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us." – Winston Churchill 

Doctors are in the business of helping people be well. They take an oath to “Do no harm.” Architects take an oath as well“To protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public we serve.” According to The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Code of Ethics, architects have the responsibility for designing and constructing healthy places that people inhabit as their ecosystem. We create the built environment that supports human health.  When we build anything, we must ask, how does this building sustain health? Is any part of the design harmful to people? Could we make other design choices that improve social, mental, emotional, or physical health? 

Human beings are the universal client that we all design for. The best outcome for our design is that it supports the health and well-being of this universal client. It is a complex undertaking to learn about health, understand the science, delve into medicine, behavior, psychology, chemistry and fluid dynamics, and then to design with all these subjects in mind.  

We know from working often on complex undertakings that the trick is to break down the design process into manageable pieces. This measure asks architects to look at the health aspects of building materials they choose. It can seem daunting to look at all materials at once and make sweeping changes. Take one step; identify two or three materials to review. Choose based on quantity or health benefits and make a change. If this procedure is followed on every project, architects will make hundreds of healthier choices for building occupants. 

This measure also recommends increasing the healthy properties of air, light, sound, and views not just in the workplace but in all spaces and designs. Keeping contaminants and noise pollution out of buildings and bringing in more fresh air, light, and views of nature are simple ways to improve well-being. Sleep is improved, anxiety reduced, productivity increased, and healing accelerated with better air, light, peace, and nature. There is more to learn about how these concepts interrelate, but evidence is clear that these concepts matter to human health and they belong in good design. 

Finally, this measure asks architects to design buildings that promote healthy behaviors. As architects, we build walls and openings, limits, and opportunities, and these can guide people to healthy or unhealthy behaviors. Beautiful stairs, indoor and outdoor rooms, landscapes and environments, can all invite higher levels of engagement and reflection through well-designed texture, lighting, sound, vistas, color, and form. For example, when architects introduce food service, lactation and nursing rooms, community gardens, drinking water, and edible landscaping into projects they encourage healthier eating. Tactile, interesting walkways and paths that take people to desired destinations increase walking and physical activity. Bicycle routes, lockers, and bike parking facilitate active transportation. Integrating building entrances with transit stops, providing electric charging infrastructure, and designing functional carpool drop-offs all reduce the number of particulate emitting vehicles on the road, improving air-quality for communities. Infrastructure and signage can reduce idling, support breastfeeding, allow walking meetings, encourage breaks, increase outdoor time, and build community. As architects, we promote health through the environments we design, order, and appoint. 

We have the power and responsibility to save lives every single day. 

Liz York, FAIA, LEED AP, serves as Senior Advisor for Buildings and Facilities for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In her 20 years at CDC, she has been a link between public health scientists and facility management experts and has facilitated cross-sector collaborations that improve the sustainability and health of our food system, our communities and our buildings by developing cross sector tools like FITWEL. Liz has received two White House awards for Sustainability, been named to the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Sustainability Who’s Who, and has been recognized by the AIA as a Fellow for her work to impact health and well-being by empowering architects to build better environments. 

You can find more stories in this series here: Measure 1: Design for Integration (by Kira Gould); Measure 2: Design for Equitable Community (by Gould); Measure 3: Design for Ecology (by Gould); Measure 4: Design for Water (by Julie Hiromoto, AIA; Measure 5: Design for Resources (by Billie Tsien, AIA); and Measure 6: Design for Energy (by Kjell Anderson, AIA). Stories about Measures 9, and 10 will appear in forthcoming posts.  


PHOTO: Austin Central Library / Lake | Flato Architects + Shepley Bulfinch Joint Venture photo: Lara Swimmer 

SECTION: Keller Center, School of Public Policy / Farr Associates + Woodhouse Tinucci Architects