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The Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN®) Knowledge Community develops knowledge and information to benefit architects who are engaged in, or who are interested in learning more about, custom residential practice. CRAN® presents information and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and expertise to promote the professional development of its members via discussion forums, national symposia and conventions, publications, and local activities.

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CCADE Update: Small Firms and the Framework for Design Excellence

By Nathan Kipnis FAIA posted 09-07-2021 12:42 PM


From our training in architecture school to design competitions and media influences, many architects are taught that great design means aesthetically beautiful buildings.  Yet we see that the world is changing and changing quickly, and so is the definition of great design. The AIA’s newly adopted Framework for Design Excellence is based on 10 holistic principles that are the new measure of architectural success.   

Among important challenges that now must be addressed are appropriate responses to climate change. These center firmly on sustainable and resilient design strategies that incorporate wellness and environmental justice, and are now the keys to success in today’s world. 

Did you know that small firms make up the majority of firms in the AIA?  These businesses have different cultures than larger firms, but the goals and aspirations are the same: meeting a client’s requirements, doing it on time and budget, designing to increasingly demanding criteria and delivering a quality contribution to our built environment.    

Being a small firm practitioner, it can seem like projects may not matter ‘in the big picture’ and that their impact won’t make a difference.  Projects might be smaller and budgets more limiting, but every project matters.  And based on the data compiled from the 2030 Commitment, single family residential projects are routinely the highest performing building type, with the highest number of net zero examples.   

Taken as a whole, projects that smaller firms produce have an enormous impact.  Unless small firms engage in the solutions that are urgently needed today, our profession will miss the opportunity to demonstrate the positive influence and impact created when all architects contribute to solutions at all scales.  

Implementing the Framework for Design Excellence may seem daunting.  However, you are likely already implementing some of the Framework’s principals.  With each new project, you can explore implementing additional principals as appropriate.  

One of the AIA’s newest board committees is the Committee on Climate Action and Design Excellence (CCADE), which assists other AIA groups in integrating the Framework for Design Excellence. This lead-by-example approach will help small firms across the country discover practical ways to implement sustainability and resilience, providing an excellent opportunity to add value to your clients and their projects. 

The AIA needs you to engage in this effort— every individual at every firm of every size.  Success will happen when we are all focused on the same goal.  Architects are uniquely qualified to meet and lead the challenges of a changing world that will only continue to evolve.  Let’s go!