What does the AIA Framework for Design Excellence have to do with your submission to the AIA Austin Design Excellence Conference?


The AIA Austin Design Excellence Conference (formerly the AIA Austin Summer Conference) programming reflects focused commitment from AIA Leadership, which is in turn a reflection of broader societal transformations. Within the AIA, a multi-decade shift finally became a reality in the summer of 2019 in the form of a redefined statement of Design Excellence.

The Framework for Design Excellence defines aspects of good design that every project is expected to consider, and helps those considerations turn into design decisions. A quick overview appears in the dropdown below. 


Design is not just about aesthetic components, but how buildings perform for people. 

This framework is intended to redefine good design and transform the day to day practice of architecture in every firm and on every project to achieve a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment. 

A set of 10 measures define aspects of good design that architects need to consider in order to achieve this transformation. The measures are accompanied by thought-provoking questions to help reframe the conversation about design. 

The framework organizes our thinking, facilitates conversations w/ our clients and the communities we serve, and sets meaningful goals and targets for climate action.

The Framework for Design Excellence asks architects and their project teams to Design for:

1. Integration - what is the big idea behind this project? How do form and function integrate to reinforce the goals of the project?
2. Equitable Communities - What is the project's greater reach? How could this project contribute to creating a diverse, accessible, walkable, just, human-scaled community?
3. Ecosystems - In what ways does the design respond to the ecology of this place?
4. Water - How does the project use water wisely and handle rainfall responsibly? How does the project relate to the regional watershed?
5. Economy - Providing abundance while living within our means is a fundamental challenge of design. How does the project provide “more with less”?
6. Energy - How does the project address climate change through reduction of, generation of, and /or decarbonization of energy use?
7. Well-being - Good design supports health and well-being for all people. How can the design encourage a healthy lifestyle?
8. Resources - How are materials and products selected and designed to reduce environmental impacts while enhancing building performance?
9. Change - How does the project address future risks? How is the project designed for adaptation to anticipate future uses?
10. Discovery - Have the outcomes matched expectations during design? 

Each section of the framework corresponds to one of the “dimensions” above and lists:

1. Focus topics
2. An expanded description and explanation of the dimension
3. Best practice design strategies
4. “If you can only do one thing”
5. Curated web resources
6. Case studies of exemplary projects

Tips for Course Submission Preparation

As you prepare your submission for the AIA Austin Design Excellence Conference this year, please let us know how what you know, do, or sell can promote human thriving, either inside our buildings or within the planetary ecosystems upon which we all depend. 
Whether your offer expertise, services, products, or some combination, the key questions for you to consider this year as you prepare a conference submission are: 

    •    What is the functional outcome that my expertise, service, product, or material offers? 
    •    How can what I offer, do, or make be used to promote outcomes?

The outcomes that matter to the AIA are those that improve occupant well-being in the indoor environment, and/or those that reduce impacts to planetary ecosystems through more thoughtful approaches to resource and energy use. The official language are the outcomes that lead to a “zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment”.  

Improving the indoor environment can mean, for example, healthy materials, or products and design services that promote indoor acoustic, light, or air quality. For the outdoor environment, the time is here for you to make sure the AIA knows how your product, skill, or service can reduce impacts on energy and resource use.

Fundamentally the AIA Leadership is incentivizing architects and their AEC teams to shift from a process-focused approach to one that is outcome-focused, and considers the positive change that happens as a consequence of the process.

As an example of an outcome focus, consider a drill. Instead of focusing on the drill itself, you make sure to recognize and “sell” the face that the outcome you offer is a hole. Why does an architect want that hole? What do their clients use the hole for? Why is your hole the one they really want? Obviously, there will still be a need to talk about the process of drilling a hole, but that is not where to start. Thinking about drills and the process of drilling alone may not consider significant upstream impacts or the downstream outcomes. 

Remarks from the Design Excellence Conference Committee and COTE

Protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public has a broader meaning in the 21st century in the midst of an urgent climate emergency that is now being eclipsed by an urgent global health pandemic. Architects everywhere recognize that our profession must harness the power of design to address the most significant needs of our time, and that we have the collective ability to create a positive future for all who share this planet.
The linear economy of Take -> Make -> Waste will not lead to outcomes that anyone wants and needs to be replaced by a circular economy. Can your firm’s product, service, or expertise lead the way forward? If so, tell us how. If not, it may be time to retool and realign. Talk with your clients about their options. About the outcomes they value. 

The upcoming AIA Austin Design Excellence Conference presents an opportunity and a challenge for Allied Members. There is an opportunity to strengthen brand and market position by embracing the challenge of rethinking traditional practices. Those of us who have been finding our way within the AEC industry here in Austin need to recognize that the ecosystem we have been a part of has undergone an irreversible shift. We are, like it or not, embedded in and part of this transition. If anything, this strange and challenging time of great disruption that we are all living through makes it easy to understand that traditional practices may no longer be appropriate in the post-COVID world. 
-Kristof Irwin, Positive Energy, AIA Austin Allied Member and Design Excellence Conference Committee Member

Architects don’t need to seek relevance, only seize it.
 - Carl Elefante, FAIA, AIA President 2018