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Equity, Community Featured in AIA: COTE Top Ten for 2012

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AIA Top Ten 2012 Image Gallery

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By Paula Melton

The American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment (AIA–COTE) has announced its Top Ten projects for 2012. Dominated by limited-budget public and institutional projects, this year’s Top Ten winners include an unusual number of adaptive reuse projects and highlight community ties, social equity, and attentiveness to water issues on par with what we’ve customarily seen for energy performance.

“These projects really demonstrate that you don’t need a client with bottomless pockets or a purely pedagogical mission related to sustainability,” wrote one juror. Another juror emphasized the enduring importance of buildings that inspire people and connect neighborhoods: “It is the true measure of sustainability—the fact that a project becomes so embraced by its community that its value far exceeds the value of a conventionally designed building.”

The winners include one building designed to Passive House standards, a number of projects striving for net-zero energy consumption, and others additionally striving for net-zero water and waste consumption.

1315 Peachtree Street


This project transforms a conventional 1986 building in Atlanta into a high-performance office space and demonstration project incorporating daylighting, an open office plan, rainwater catchment, high-performance glazing, and photovoltaics. Reducing reliance on the region’s coal-dominated energy mix through a grid-tied trigeneration system (combined heating, cooling, and power), the design team helped the project achieve aggressive carbon targets.

ASU Polytechnic Academic District

Lake|Flato Architects

This pedestrian-oriented campus in Mesa, Arizona, replaced a decommissioned Air Force base, in the process resolving longstanding flooding issues through naturalized habitats that supplanted a full 14 acres of asphalt and concrete. “Extroverted circulation” in protected atria and courtyards optimizes the available space, providing outdoor connections and gathering spaces while also reducing construction costs and minimizing the amount of impervious surface.

Chandler City Hall


The team behind this municipal building attempted to reinvigorate the historic downtown core of a Phoenix suburb by bringing the City government into one central building in hopes of fostering community identity and seeding economic development. Community art projects integrated with the building and site bring awareness to sustainability features.

Hood River Middle School Music and Science Building

Opsis Architecture

New gardens, a greenhouse, onsite wastewater treatment, and other permaculture strategies advance the goals of an established outdoor education program at this public middle school in Hood River, Oregon. Students have access to the ground-source pump room as well as submetered energy data, and the science curriculum integrates aspects of energy and water budgets through hands-on experiments involving building performance.

Iowa Utilities Board Office of Consumer Advocate


A singular focus on responsible use of resources—both natural systems and taxpayer funds—led to this ultra-high-performance building in Des Moines, Iowa, that boasts an energy use intensity of 22 kBtu/ft2. In a state that has experienced a number of recent devastating floods, stormwater management was also a prime consideration; native prairie habitat re-established over infiltration basins treats stormwater on the site and provides green space while requiring no irrigation.

Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts

SMP Architects

This transformative project in Philadelphia, pushed toward deeper shades of green by a local youth advocacy group, remediated a blighted former train yard that had become a haven for drug dealers and wild dogs, according to the design team. The now lush, inviting site, filled with production gardens, rain gardens, and field space, is a safe neighborhood park. Truancy at the school has plummeted, and graduation rates have skyrocketed. As one student reportedly wrote in a poem during an Earth Day event last year, “I was born into poverty, I am poor now, but I am no longer without hope.”

Mercy Corps


THA Architecture

Determined to live out its mission of promoting community renewal after disaster or hardship, Mercy Corps chose to bring new life into an existing neighborhood through its renovation of and addition to a historic Portland, Oregon, landmark, the Packer-Scott Building. The urban location allows 75% of employees to arrive by alternative transportation—leading to a need to expand bicycle storage facilities in the near future.

Portland Community College Newburg Center

Hennebery Eddy Architects

The first building constructed as part of a planned net-zero-energy campus, in Newburg, Oregon, this community college student center strives to provide for a wider socioeconomic group the type of high-performance building students are more likely to enjoy on residential four-year campuses. Careful design of the natural ventilation system eliminated the need for mechanical cooling, while daylighting and passive solar heating strategies reduce energy use. The staff is engaged in intensive post-occupancy energy tracking to ensure net-zero performance.

University of California–Merced Campus


With a focus on social equity and economic sustainability in addition to environmental considerations, this developing campus aims to be the first in the U.S. to achieve net-zero energy, carbon emissions, and waste. “This project’s commitment to monitoring, actual system performance, and optimization is exemplary,” writes one of the jurors. “We are moving toward a world of outcome-based codes, and more and more we are seeing outcome-based clients, so this project does us all a service in helping to show the way.”

University of Minnesota–Duluth Classroom Building

Salmela Architect

This classroom building is the first AIA–COTE Top Ten project we’ve seen built to Passive House performance standards. Passive solar heat gain provides almost all the heating energy in winter, while super-insulation ensures that the building can stay warm for several days without power or direct sunlight. The structure provides a gateway to the university’s nature preserve and includes an outdoor classroom area that enabled a minimal building footprint.

Jurors for the 2012 Top Ten were: Sue Barnett; Clark Brockman, AIA; Steve Dumez, FAIA; Laura Lee, FAIA; Scott Shell, FAIA; and Paul Schwer, P.E.

Disclosure: BuildingGreen, Inc. provides editorial and technical services for the online submissions and presentation of the AIA-COTE Top Ten.

For more information:

AIA Committee on the



Comments (2)

1 Glass and steel posted by Christopher Schaffner on 04/19/2012 at 05:41 am

AIA needs to get over its love affair with glass and steel. And maybe they could take a picture of a building that doesn't have all the lights on? Even, better, they could show people in these buildings.

2 Photo choices posted by Paula Melton on 04/19/2012 at 05:53 am

Christopher, to be fair, AIA is not responsible for the photos! I actually chose these ten from among *many* available ones on the AIA Top Ten website, where they were posted by submitting architects. There are many lovely daytime views and occupied interiors--so I highly recommend heading over there and reading the full project descriptions. You might even be impressed with the measured energy performance despite all that glass and steel, although, as I'm sure you're aware, we too view overglazing with a wary eye.

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April 19, 2012