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The 2020 AIA COTE Top 10 Award winners raise the bar for sustainable building

COTE's Crème de la Crème

The 2020 AIA COTE Top 10 Award winners raise the bar for sustainable building

Gensler’s Ford Foundation for Social Justice, a considerate yet dramatic revamping of the foundation's iconic Manhattan headquarters, was one of three projects by the firm to win a 2020 COTE Top 10 Award. (Courtesy Gensler/Garrett Rowland)

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) has announced the recipients of the 2020 COTE Top 10 Awards, just a few short weeks later than normal. Usually synced with Earth Day, the big reveal of this year’s batch of superlatively sustainable projects—all demonstrating “the solutions architects provide for the health and welfare of our communities and planet”—was delayed due to the coronavirus crisis.

As is wont with the prestigious COTE Top 10 Awards, the 2020 recipients are a diverse lot and truly run the gamut when it comes to building type, usage, and geographic locale. Just a taste of the winning projects: An adaptive reuse effort in which a defunct Austin, Texas, recycling center that was transformed into an airy creative office space; a distinctive 52-unit affordable housing complex (the only housing project recognized this year) for previously homeless and disabled veterans in Los Angeles’s MacArthur Park neighborhood; and a border crossing facility in the Chihuahuan Desert that’s architecture “serves and respects all people, embraces culture, conserves resources, nurtures ecology, protects habitat, celebrates diversity, and conveys a love of the land.”

One winning project, the Environmental Nature Center and Preschool, Newport Beach, California, was singled out for its exceptional, resource-conserving post-occupancy performance data.

Gensler made a strong showing and had three total projects recognized. Two are in New York City (Etsy’s Living Building Challenge Petal-certified headquarters in DUMBO, Brooklyn, and a much-praised overhaul of the Ford Foundation’s landmark modernist Manhattan headquarters) and the third is the aforementioned adaptive refuse project in Austin. On that note, Texan firm Lake|Flato (no stranger to the COTE Top 10) was also recognized for multiple projects, both of them collaborative efforts: The Austin Central Library and the Marine Education Center at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Mississippi.

To be eligible for the COTE Top 10 Award, individual project submissions must meet stringent criteria that includes 10 measures such as social, economic, and ecological values, explains a press statement from the AIA. From there, a five-member jury evaluated each project based on the “effectiveness of their holistic design solution and metrics associated with the 10 measures.”

The 2020 jury included: Robert Berkebile, FAIA, BNIM Architects; Roy Decker, FAIA, Duvall Decker Architects; William Horgan, Associate AIA, Grimshaw; Vivian Loftness, FAIA, Carnegie Mellon University; and Andrea Love, AIA, Payette.

Below is the complete list of winning projects. You can learn more about each at the AIA COTE Top 10 Awards website.

Austin Central Library, an AIA COTE project with people inside
(Courtesy Lake|Flato/Nic Lehoux)

Austin Central Library, Austin, Texas — Lake|Flato Architects + Shepley Bulfinch 

Per the jury: “The interior light-filled atrium has become a living room for the city, open to the community and all constituencies; the space is dynamic and offers many opportunities for citizens to find just the right spot to read, study, meet, or work.”

United States Land Port of Entry, Columbus, New Mexico, an AIA COTE project with solar panels on top
(Courtesy Richter Architects/Robert Reck)

U.S. Land Port of Entry, Columbus, New Mexico — Richter Architects

Per the jury: “A port of entry is a challenging building type. The designers in this project not only met that challenge, but achieved more by showing us how the architecture of any kind can make human environments healthy and dignified. This is a thoughtful, durable building made to last.”

Environmental Nature Center and Preschool, Newport Beach, a timber AIA COTE winning school
(Courtesy LPA, Inc./Cris Costea)

Environmental Nature Center and Preschool, Newport Beach, California — LPA, Inc.

Per the jury: “It introduces kids to responsible sustainability at a young age and is a place where people will want to send their children. It does all the right things—water, biophilia, resilience, and strong material choices.”

Etsy headquarters in Brooklyn
(Courtesy Gensler/Garrett Rowland)

Etsy Headquarters, New YorkGensler

Per the jury: “Everything about the inhabitants, the building, and the use of the space are involved in the investment in sustainability as a way of life. This project is a celebration of health and craft and takes an existing fabric and transforms it into something more rewarding.”

Ford Foundation, New York, a modern office tower with central atrium and AIA COTE winner
(Courtesy Gensler/Garrett Rowland)

Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, New YorkGensler

Per the jury: “The new design adds adjustments and changes to its planning that make it more public and equitable. The garden is reestablished as a public oasis that invites the community in, and following the current values of the Ford Foundation, the building makes room for like-minded partners in a more collaborative structure.”

John W Olver Design Building, Amherst
(Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates/Ngoc Doan/STIMSON)

John W. Olver Design Building, Amherst, Massachusetts Leers Weinzapfel Associates

Per the jury: “The space is made possible by an innovative wood truss system showing us how to reach beyond the CLT systems to make larger spaces. Its courtyard guarantees views and access to campus to everyone within the building and is well integrated into the larger campus.”

Keller Center - Harris School of Public Policy
(Courtesy Farr Associates/Tom Rossiter)

Keller Center at the Harris School of Public Policy, ChicagoFarr Associates (design lead and architect of record) and Woodhouse Tinucci Architects (collaborating architect, interior designer)

Per the jury: “The opening of the floor plates to create a larger light-filled community atrium makes the interior expansive. This design intervention teaches us an important lesson on how to transform these large floor plate-existing buildings into healthy, desirable, light-filled spaces.”

Marine Education Center at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
(Courtesy Lake|Flato/Casey Dunn)

Marine Education Center at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Ocean Springs, Mississippi — Lake|Flato Architects in association with Unabridged Architecture

Per the jury: “The design team’s thoughtful care shows everywhere. The complex is ordered not by an imposition of a construct of some kind, but by finding sites that create minimal damage and that would be above the flood plain and remain inherently resilient.”

The Six affordable housing in Los Angeles
(Courtesy Brooks + Scarpa/Tara Wujcik)

The Six, Los Angeles Brooks + Scarpa

Per the jury: “The courtyard makes a public protected space and provides a communal harbor for a vulnerable population. Passive strategies are identified at the building and unit scale. The units are light-filled, and the courtyard provides ventilation.”

UpCycle Austin
(Courtesy Gensler/Dror Baldinger)

UPCycle, Austin, TexasGensler

Per the jury: “The design team here shows us how to make a great, healthy, sustainable, adaptive reuse project within a crazy tight budget.”