Committee on the Environment


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The AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE®) works to advance, disseminate, and advocate design practices that integrate built and natural systems and enhance both the design quality and environmental performance of the built environment. Expand your positive impact: Engage in our advocacy efforts. Enjoy our last newsletter (and follow us on Twitter). To learn about the Framework for Design Excellence (formerly the COTE Top Ten Measures), click 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. 

Defining Design Excellence: Measure 9 | Design for Change

By Nakita A. J. Reed AIA posted 08-14-2020 00:15


[COTE news | August]

OpenWorks Before 
OpenWorks After

CAPTION: The transformation of a dilapidated, two-story, 1920s warehouse in the Station North Arts District of Baltimore has created a vibrant, technology-rich studio and workshop environment that is now one of the largest nonprofit maker spaces in the country.   Quinn Evans designed the renovation of this vacant warehouse to provide an inclusive source of economic, creative, and social opportunities. OpenWorks welcomes local artists and craftspeople in support of their small-scale manufacturing and innovative start-up endeavors. The building offers a host of fabrication and machine shops for working with textiles, metal, wood, electronics, 3D printing, and digital media.

SOURCE: OpenWorks | Quinn Evans | Photos: Karl Connolly 

Reuse, adaptability, and resilience are essential to sustainable design, which seeks to maintain and enhance usability, functionality, and value over time. Describe how the project is designed to facilitate adaptation for other uses and/or how an existing building was repurposed. What other uses could this building easily accommodate in 50 to 100 years? In what ways did the design process consider climate change over the life of the building? Describe the project’s resilience measures: How does the design anticipate restoring or adapting function in the face of stress or shock, such as natural disasters, blackouts, etc.? How does the project address passive survivability (providing habitable conditions in case of the loss of utility power)?


If 2020 has taught us nothing else, we all now know that change is the only constant. Design measure 9 asks architects to consider how we can reuse existing buildings and how the buildings we design will change over time. In How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand provided a Shearing Layers of Change diagram which clearly outlines a relative time scale of change for various components that make up a building. Recognizing that the needs of end-users change (and planning ahead for those changes) is a sustainable way to keep buildings out of the landfill.  Buildings that can be adapted to new uses allow the embodied energy already expended on the building to be reused.


According to Architecture 2030, “global building stock will double in area by 2060.” We know the climate is rapidly changing, so much so that the climate ‘norm’ cannot rely solely on historical climate data. Incorporating passive principles into our design or planning for building operations during power outages will provide another layer of functionality to our buildings. As designers, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to ensure that we are not harming the existing community or burdening future generations with something that will have to be thrown away because it was too rigid.  While we can’t control the actions of future owners, we can create spaces that have an eye towards adaptability. Utilizing open floor plans, generous column grid spacing, and being mindful of attachment details and techniques can prepare new buildings to be readily adapted to new uses when the time comes. 


This measure also asks that architects look at ways to reuse the existing building stock we currently have.  All new buildings are existing buildings on ‘day 2’ so how do we leverage the current building stock to meet the needs of our clients.  Adaptive reuse allows designers to recognize the existing building stock as assets and leverage the embodied carbon already expended. Our buildings do not exist in a vacuum, but in a community context.  As Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”  Reusing a building creates a palimpsest of layers through adaptive reuse and allows the sense of place to remain intact. Stories told from one generation to the next are more vibrant when the building can be pointed to as an elder explains “that building used to be…” Many of us will spend our careers reshaping existing and historic buildings. Considering how our designs may be reshaped as we are reshaping an existing building may result in additional design solutions.

As the Native American Proverb reminds us: “We don’t inherit the planet from our parents but we borrow it from our children.”  This measure reminds us to appreciate what’s already here and to create spaces that future generations will cherish and want to reuse.


Nakita Reed is an award-winning architect skilled in the preservation, restoration, and adaptive use of historic buildings, with a focus on sustainable strategies in design and construction.  She has a Master of Architecture and a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Virginia. She is a registered architect, a LEED®-Accredited Professional, and was the 2018 recipient of AIA|DC’s Emerging Architect Award.


You can find more stories in this series here: Measure 1: Design for Integration (by Kira Gould, Allied AIA); 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 Economy (by Billie Tsien, AIA); Measure 6: Design for Energy (by Kjell Anderson, AIA); Measure 7: Design for Wellness (by Liz York, FAIA); and Measure 8: Design for Resources (by Dennis Rijkhoff, AIA). A story about Measure 10 will appear in September.