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There Is No Separation Between Sustainability and Design Excellence
William Leddy, FAIA, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects / AIA / September 18, 2013
There should be no separation between sustainability and design excellence in the American Institute of Architects’ Honor Awards, writes William Leddy, FAIA, of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and the chair of the AIA Committee on the Environment Advisory Group.
As the premier architecture and urban design awards program in the nation for more than two generations, the AIA Institute Honor Awards have successfully established the standard for design excellence within our profession. As a result, architects rightly regard the Honor Awards as esteemed recognition for hard-earned design achievement, and deserving acknowledgement of the clients who make it possible. But the call for entries clearly points to another equally vital purpose of this program: communicating the evolving character and lasting value of architectural design excellence to the public. Indeed, as we proceed with the Repositioning the AIA initiative, the Institute Honor Awards should be recognized as one of the Institute’s most engaging and effective public expressions of our purpose, our values, and our leadership in building a better world.
Collectively, the works recognized over the past 60 years represent an extraordinary legacy—each successive year presenting a sampling of the very best design thinking and technological advancement of its time. In the spirit of this legacy, and recognizing the importance of communicating the value of architecture more effectively, we should ask ourselves how the Institute Honor Awards can evolve to better reflect the rapidly changing conditions of our own time.
“Design Excellence” for today
In this era of advancing climate change, resource depletion, and growing concern about the health and resilience of our built environments, the AIA has worked hard to educate the profession about the technical dimensions of these challenges. Numerous AIA programs and policy statements—including the AIA Communities by Design’s 10 Principles for Livable Communities, the AIA Position Statement on Sustainable Architectural Practice and the 2030 Commitment—have provided significant leadership. But we have largely failed to fully engage design responses to these pressing conditions within our broader concepts of design excellence. Sustainable design has been generally perceived as somehow separate from our “real” design pursuits. Separate design awards programs are held for “good design” and “green design,” and separate design journals are produced for “architecture” and “sustainable architecture”—thus perpetuating a false distinction that the AIA and our profession can no longer afford to make. Just as the early 20th-century’s abundant fossil fuels and rapid advances in steel and glass construction technologies helped produce the Modern movement, the current historic convergence of powerful digital design tools, renewable energy technologies, and healthy resource-efficient materials and systems are giving birth to a new architecture of our own time. “Green” design is “good” design.