Intersection of Art and Science

Back in September I wrote an article that listed many of the organizations dedicated to helping architects expand their involvement, knowledge, and commitment to sustainable design. One of these groups of concerned professionals was created under the umbrella of our AIA national organization more than 25 years ago. It exists as one of the knowledge committees officially established under the AIA’s structure of committees that focus on particular topics of architectural practice. Seeking to bring these design issues to the forefront of a national discussion of design priorities, this national committee was founded in 1990 by a group of architects dedicated to improving the environmental performance of the built environment. Its members were instrumental in providing some of the initiative that helped spawn other organizations such as the US Green Building Council.

In addition to establishing the national committee, state AIA chapters were invited to form state committees to address these issues locally, with the idea of aligning state chapters to a common agenda. As some of you may have guessed, I am speaking of the AIA Committee on the Environment, also known as COTE. (Our AIANH chapter committee is known as the NH Environmental Guild, but more on that later.)

Throughout the early years COTE National established its mission and developed its agenda. It also developed criteria to evaluate architectural projects with exemplary environmental performance. And in 1997 (three years before the USGBC LEED rating system actually gelled), it established its own awards program to recognize projects that stood out as excellent examples of architecture that spoke to these issues. (See

I found this to be an important milestone in celebrating the projects that were incorporating this value system. Considering the seriousness of these issues, and the evolving understanding of the need for architectural design to include these performance criteria in an assessment of quality, this noble award program arrived. It became an annual juried competition to recognize projects and firms producing this kind of work, and to suggest to others in the profession and the public at large what we should be celebrating as quality architecture for our time.
The Ten areas of evaluation (as recently relabeled and enhanced by COTE national) may sound familiar and are listed below: (details on the AIA website, )

1.         Design for Integration
2.         Design for Community
3.         Design for Ecology
4.         Design for Water
5.         Design for Economy
6.         Design for Energy
7.         Design for Wellness
8.         Design for Resources
9.         Design for Change
10.       Design for Discovery

So why do I think this was a milestone in 1997? I would suggest that it is time to include this value system (in the general sense) in the assessment of all architectural projects for their level of quality, and in all juried evaluations that seek to award kudos to architectural projects deserving praise. Conversely, I would suggest that it might be time to acknowledge that projects that neglect or ignore these issues in their design solution have missed an important part of the quality design criteria of good architecture. They may be interesting works of architectural sculpture or artistic expressions, but if they neglect a high standard of environmental performance, then are they architecture deserving praise, or rather criticism, or at least some of each? Too often media-driven fashion, seeking the latest visually ‘cool’ example of the ‘form du jour’ ignores important things that give real meaning to an architecture that resonates with the issues of our time, and the people it serves.

Architecture has always been the integration of art and science in the built environment. And in my opinion the best buildings need to excel in both realms. Buildings for human occupancy have always needed to address a plurality of issues and synthesize them into an integrated, expressive whole, while celebrating key aspects specific to their individual circumstances, whether that be program, site, form, detail, environmental performance, etc. to create a project worthy of recognition.

Recently you may have seen the call for entries for the 2017 COTE awards program and might have wondered just what this specific award program is about. I believe it is about encouraging thoughtful teams of individuals who are dedicated to seriously addressing these important holistic issues in the projects they design. It is not about exact metrics to achieve this or that point, but the integration of important overall environmental and human goals in the finished project. Some mandatory metrics are required in the latest criteria, and participation in other rating systems is considered, but the submission requests written <200 word descriptions for each category. It attempts to evaluate holistic criteria in an understandable responsible manner, rather than just a scorecard.

In our own local AIANH chapter, the COTE committee is referred to as the NH Environmental Guild, and includes AIA Affiliate members and other members from the NH community at large. As many of you know the IDID conferences and the 2030 seminars have been some of the signature events coordinated by this group. Locally, we have an active COTE chapter, but only recently have we begun to connect to the National COTE organization, and think about how we might develop connections to more state chapter COTE committees. There is a long legacy of great work by COTE AIA National (beyond the awards program) that I believe we need to keep abreast of, and perhaps get more involved in. An example of this is a statement from some long standing COTE members who felt they needed to send something out to other kindred spirits and express their thoughts in this time of important national and world events.

That open letter, which appears below, recently went out in an email to the AIANH membership. But with the amount of spam being broadcast these days cluttering up many members email boxes, I thought it important to pass this along here in the Forum as well.

The text of the open letter follows:
Architects play a critical role in creating a healthy, beautiful, inclusive and environmentally responsible built environment. For the last quarter century, the AIA Committee on the Environment has represented the leading edge of this movement and sets an example for others to follow. We have no intention of stopping now.

Architects are required by law to protect the health and safety of the public.

Architects work under a broad set of principles, which include cultural, social, religious and environmental rights. Our duties encompass the right of equal access, housing rights, worker’s rights and the protection of open spaces.

We have an ethical duty and know from experience that it is possible to make buildings that are better for public health and safety while reducing or eliminating their contribution towards climate change—the ultimate public health threat.

Government plays a complementary role to architects in the protection of public health and safety by enforcing minimum standards through building codes and environmental and safety standards on the materials and methods used to construct buildings. Government can also ‘lead by example’ by setting performance standards well above code minimum, helping American building practices stay competitive with those around the world and lowering operational costs for taxpayers for government-owned buildings.
We will work to enable fact-based decision making, advancing policies to help make our buildings the healthiest, the safest, and the greatest in the world.
We are deeply committed to achieving these goals in our practices, our work and with our communities. This commitment is more important now than ever. Now is the time to recommit to the AIA 2030 Commitment. Now is the time to create another net-positive building. Now is the time to become engaged with our local communities. And, now is the time to involve yourself with your Chapter’s COTE Committee as we continue to work toward a healthy, beautiful, equitable, and environmentally responsible built world. Working together we will make a difference.

American Institute of Architects
Committee on the Environment
2016 Advisory Group
Paula McEvoy FAIA (Chair)
Mary Ann Lazarus FAIA (Vice Chair),
and many others have signed on to this open letter

Should you feel this also expresses your sentiments about the importance of environmental issues in the design of the built environment, they invite you to sign on. You can do that by going to:

Should you feel differently about any of this, you can express your opinion in an upcoming edition of the NH Forum or the AIANH Facebook page. n

Ed. note: The AIA New Hampshire Environmental Guild meets regularly the second Tuesday of the month, usually at Sheldon Pennoyer’s office in Concord. You are invited to become part of this effort. You can email Sheldon, or Executive Director Bonnie Kastel,, to get on the mailing list for meeting notices and updates.

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