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BuildingGreen’s Insider Intel for Gaming the AIA’s COTE Top Ten

Insider, eyes-only info on the AIA Top Ten is enclosed. A retinal scan will initiate, using your computer’s built-in camera. Do not look away.

Brief provided by Agent Malin. Code name: El Presidente.

The American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten awards for 2016 is open for submissions until January 19, 2016.

This internationally acclaimed awards program is the only one that strives to reward both exceptional design—from an aesthetic and user-experience perspective—and high performance in the areas of sustainability and resilience. Having one or more COTE Top Ten winners is an important feather in your firm’s cap.

Trying to decide whether to participate this year? Or which or your several super cool high-performance projects to submit? Keep in mind that winning projects vary from year to year: it’s all about the priorities and agendas of the judges. So don’t forget to do your homework on the jury.

Actually, we’ve made that easy, by doing the homework for you. This year, as usual, the jury is an all-star cast. And one of the good things about all-stars is that they have a public record. Let’s see what a peek into their files reveals.

Larry Strain, FAIA, LEED AP, Siegel & Strain Architects:

Strain is a born-and-bred Californian who has spent his entire career in that political hotbed known as Berkeley. That’s right; don’t let the innocuous-sounding “Emeryville” fool you: Siegel & Strain is at heart a Berkeley firm, and Strain even teaches at that far-left institution UC–Berkeley.


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It’s no surprise, given those roots, that Strain has a fat file documenting extensive activities relating to so-called “low-carbon materials.” Starting with his inflammatory Emeryville Resourceful Housing study—which purported to show that Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and advanced framing could replace traditional wood-frame construction at no added cost—and continuing with his rhetoric on the “time-value of carbon” and undercover work for the Carbon Leadership Forum, Strain is someone the establishment is watching closely.

Stylistically, he leans toward traditional forms with a nod to Modernism, which has been a COTE Top Ten winning formula for Siegel & Strain.

Margaret Montgomery, FAIA, LEED Fellow, NBBJ

Montgomery is a veteran agitator for so-called “sustainability” at a firm with a strong design tradition. Under the spell of her influence, her firm became an early adopter of the AIA’s notorious 2030 Commitment.

She’s the rare architect who isn’t intimidated by metrics—and beware. She can elude capture by swimming in oceans of data. The State of Washington has spent the last decade trying to bring her to justice for undermining its claim on rainwater captured by buildings. Her other interests range from low-energy hospitals to resilience to biophilia.

Luke Leung, PE, LEED Fellow, SOM

The SOM name is unimpeachable, but Leung is a potential troublemaker within that illustrious firm.

He has been known to carry particle counters with him around the world to track both ambient air and indoor air quality. He’s a fan of the air-quality and efficiency advantages at the tops of super-tall buildings, where the air is cleaner and ambient temperatures are lower (reducing cooling loads).

He has a low tolerance for hollow performance claims, especially in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and air quality. Leung has been accused—but never convicted—of contaminating his engineering vision with poetry.

Judith Heerwagen, Ph.D. U.S. General Services Administration

Heerwagen’s file dates back to the nascent U.S. Green Building Council gatherings, when she had the audacity to suggest that actual data might be generated to back up the outrageous performance claims that circulated in that suspicious network.

She was an early biophilia activist and is believed to have had a hand in that movement’s seminal manifesto The Biophilia Hypothesis. Heerwagen has also been known, on numerous occasions, to propose a uniquely radical position: that how people experience the space within buildings should be elevated to the status of an actual performance metric.

Andrew Whalley, AIA, Grimshaw

Whalley’s file contains numerous allegations of trying to subvert industrial infrastructure and transportation projects into publicly accessible venues, casting a dark shadow over the important institution of Euclidean zoning.

He has so far eluded conviction on those charges and continues to perpetuate such dangerous ideas with alarming impunity.

Summary Analysis

Armed with this classified information, you can exploit the weaknesses of this cast of characters and come out on top.

Projects that succeed in this dangerous environment will most likely be biophillic, super-tall wood structures that provide optimal habitat and important infrastructure functions:

Published December 11, 2015

(2015, December 11). BuildingGreen’s Insider Intel for Gaming the AIA’s COTE Top Ten. Retrieved from’s-insider-intel-gaming-aia’s-cote-top-ten

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