Are COTE Winners Too Much of the Same?

May 1, 2008

Pocono Environmental Education/Visitor Activity - Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Architects The winners of this year’s AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Green Buildings were announced this week, and there certainly are some very attractive buildings among the lot. Some of these buildings are certified, or in the process of becoming certified, to high LEED standards, in addition to their COTE Top Ten recognition.

But while I’m excited by some of the design presented in this year’s lineup, there are some troubling aspects of the roster as a whole that struck me almost immediately.

There is a strong slant toward a certain general kind of public building in this year’s COTE Top Ten. Of the ten winners (plus one honorable mention) almost all of the projects are buildings with a strong visitor component. Most of the buildings are Visitor Centers, Galleries and Libraries. Only one is a residential building, and the only office building is the honorable mention Internal Revenue Service Center in Kansas City MO.

Of the remaining nine, there are a Sculpture Building and Gallery, a Botanical Garden Visitor & Administration Center, a Learning Center, a University Center, a Center for Science and Art, an Environmental Education/Visitor Activity Center, a Discovery Center, a Library, and an Environmental Center. These are buildings which typically have a sizable budget and which are showpieces, meant to impress visitors. The inclusion of green building elements in all projects like this should be a given.

But do these really represent the best “examples of sustainable architecture and green design solutions that protect and enhance the environment”? Or should the best buildings represent the whole range of building?

As a program of the AIA, superior architecture and design are going to be key in any national awards, whether related to environmental issues or otherwise. So expecting these to be more ordinary buildings may be a bit much to ask of COTE.

The best examples of environmental design should be found in a range of buildings and building types. Monocultures are rarely a good thing in the long run. Too much of the same kind of building runs the risk of developing a public perception of green building being limited to only certain types of buildings, a niche, rather than a direction in which all building must start moving.

All of these projects are fine examples of green building, and I do not want to detract from any of this year’s winners. But if the AIA is going to “Walk the Walk,” it needs to promote a broader range of sustainable building projects. The Committee should take a closer look at its selection process and the methods it uses to arrive at its Top Ten award winners. A wider range of the implementations of green building needs to be recognized as part of the program. Without a greater representation from a wider variety of project types, the COTE Top Ten recognition runs the risk of becoming a marginalized and insignificant award, rather than a standard of excellence for all building design and construction.

My congratulations to all of this year’s winners.

See Also:
What Makes It Green? 2008 Winners

Architecture Week 2008 – Is It Sustainable?

Image: Pocono Environmental Education/Visitor Activity – Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Architects, via: