Architectural Board Should Reinstate Sustainability Criteria

Collaboration skills and sustainability concepts are being “elevated” by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)—but it’s really a demotion.

Nadav Malin, BuildingGreen President

Photo: Mark Piepkorn
The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) is updating the criteria it uses to accredit degree-granting architecture schools in the U.S. It is accepting comments on the “First Reading” of its criteria through June 24, 2014.

BuildingGreen is concerned about some of these changes and has submitted the following comments, which are similar to positions taken by the Society of Building Science Educators (SBSE) and Architecture 2030, and which follow closely a letter endorsed by three-dozen leading architecture firms.

Elevation in name only

The gist of these comments is that key aspects of architecture education relating to collaboration skills and sustainability have been “elevated” from specific requirements to “Defining Perspectives.” While NAAB may consider that a promotion, many educators attest that those Perspectives get little more than lip service during accreditation reviews, while the Criteria are followed closely.

We’re advocating reinstating some of the Criteria that were deleted and reframing and clarifying a few points along the way. One notable point is the direction NAAB is taking on integrative design—making it more about integrating innovative ideas, not about the kind of team-oriented process that LEED and leading professionals in the field have pushed for.

We encourage you to take a look and consider submitting your own comments to forum@naab.org.

Here’s the full text of our comments to NAAB

June 24, 2014

Dear NAAB Directors,

As a leading provider of knowledge resources to architecture schools and design firms, BuildingGreen pays close attention to the transition young designers make from education to practice. From that perspective, we strongly support the Defining Perspectives included in the First Reading. We are concerned, however, that including environmental stewardship and collaboration skills among these Defining Perspectives without clearly defined “abilities” that graduates are expected to have will do little to ensure that the next generation of architects enters the profession with the skills that firms are looking for.

To address this shortcoming in the first reading, we offer the following recommendations:

Defining Principles

I.1.4.A. Stewardship of the Environment. We strongly support the Environmental Stewardship Defining Perspective but recommend that it be reframed in more positive terms by including design for human health and wellness, and creation of a built environment that exists in harmony with natural environments and supports biodiversity. The practice of Sustainable Design has, over the past decade, become increasingly focused on integrating human health and wellness into our design thinking. Human health is entirely dependent on the health of the planet; we are all part of the same ecosystem. Our clients increasingly understand this perspective and see the benefits for our buildings’ occupants and the environment as a whole.

Realm A: Critical Thinking and Representation

II.1.1.A. Critical Thinking and Representation. Given the critical role of design to drive performance, we recommend the addition of a specific requirement that graduates be able to demonstrate understanding of the relationship between built and natural environments, and the ability to incorporate environmental and human health considerations into their work. This recommendation is consistent with the AIA requirement that environmental performance be included as part of the design criteria for all national Honor Awards: great design must perform well.

Realm B: Building Practices, Technical Skills, and Knowledge

II.1.1.B.2. Site Design: We appreciate the considerations listed and recommend adding an understanding of protecting and nurturing habitat for other species.

II.1.1.B.6. Environmental Systems: Experience in practice has demonstrated the essential role of the architect in integrating environmental performance into design from the earliest phases. Passive solutions provide the means to meet performance goals as part of an overall design solution. Graduates should have the ability to use tools for early whole-building energy modeling, envelope and massing studies, and daylighting studies as part of an iterative design. A deep understanding of how to apply, not just have an understanding of, these ideas should be an essential part of an architectural education.

II.1.1.B.8. Building Materials and Assemblies: The impact of architectural materials decisions—from external structure to envelope to finishes—is increasingly important as we recognize building materials’ impacts on human health, wellness, and the environment. This principle encompasses the human health and wellness impacts of materials, full life-cycle environmental assessments, carbon footprint of materials, and biodiversity impacts. A focus on materials transparency is now a priority for many leading architectural firms and a core priority within the AIA (see www.aia.org/materials), and there is a growing focus of research and tools development on the environmental and health impacts of materials. A qualified architectural education should result in the ability to apply concepts and use environmental-impact assessment tools throughout the design process.

Realm C: Integrated Architectural Solutions

II.1.1.C.1. Integrative Design: As formalized by the ANSI Integrative Process Standard, “ANSI Consensus Standard Guide 2.0 for Design and Construction of Sustainable Buildings and Communities,” Integrative Design is about much more than integrating ideas, as described in the First Reading. It is fundamentally about coordinating and orchestrating a collaborative process of co-learning in which all members of a project team are supported to contribute creatively to jointly developed solutions. This is a natural implementation of the Collaboration and Leadership Defining Perspective, and the ability to coordinate such a process should be added to this Criterion.

II.1.1.C.2. Evaluation and Decision Making: In keeping with the emerging needs of the profession, especially in relation to our participation in the AIA 2030 Commitment, the requirements of this criterion should specifically reference the ability to make decisions leading to high-performance design projects supported by whole-building performance simulation and the capability to meet carbon-emission reduction targets.


Nadav Malin, President

BuildingGreen, Inc.

Published June 24, 2014

Malin, N. (2014, June 24). Architectural Board Should Reinstate Sustainability Criteria. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/editorial/architectural-board-should-reinstate-sustainability-criteria

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June 24, 2014 - 3:55 pm

Nadav, Thoughtful, well written and specific.

We owe our students this level of educational engagment at minimum, if we are to prepare them for meaningful design contribution in their professional life.

Robert J. Koester AIA, LEED APProfessor of ArchitectureBall State University

June 24, 2014 - 5:00 pm

I can always count on BuildingGreen for perspective and wisdom!

The skills that contribute to a healthy planet should be incubated in our schools of architecture. We owe that to our students and the world.

Bruce Haglund

Professor of Architecture

University of Idaho

June 26, 2014 - 2:11 pm


No matter what NAAB settles on for SPCs, we'll continue to teach high-performance, low-energy, carbon-neutral, regenerative, sustainable, and green architecture.

Bruce Haglund

July 21, 2014 - 11:46 am

As a veteran of several NAAB visits, I do have some comments:

In general, I would suggest that you phrase your concerns with this in terms of what language you would like to see for each amended criteria.

In specific:

II.1.1.A. Critical Thinking and Representation.

I'm not sure what is being suggested - I think you are proposing a new criteria? I support this, but make this stronger language. This is an important critical thinking tool. 

Integrative design in the context of education is typically a single student or small team (2-3 students) wrestling with the complexity of multiple systems - site design, structure, envelope, services, ad infinitum. I completely understand your take relative to the professional world where multiple disciplines are brought together at the start to define goals and strategies. But the intention with NAAB is that individual students be able to demonstrate that they can think broadly. The opportunity for the representation of a multidisciplinary team is typically difficult in an academic condition. Students do have access to faculty who teach the various other technical disciplines, but this is not the same as working in a condition of equals.

Regarding the specific ability to model and evaluate, while I applaud the goal, the reality is that most of these tools are still really complicated, and most professionals have difficulty with using them, let alone students with little experience upon which to evaluate. Familiarity with the tools could be a requirement under Technical Skills, but I would hold off on this under integrative design.

July 21, 2014 - 11:46 am

Those universities and programs that provide more than a general degree in architectural design are creating the innovators of the future.   While thinking sustainably about materials and design can be a general pursuit, architects with the ability to effectively model new building design and take a more knowledgeable approach to all aspects of design - including technical design and coordination will produce the best buildings.

July 22, 2014 - 2:07 pm

I like that your comments are really about the implementations of the awareness the AIA has evidenced in the last few years.  It has concerned me greatly that there is a clear ethical calling for discussion of sustainability with every client, but no clear steps or tools for accomplishing that and, in fact, no clear professional guidance called for in that discussion.  The standing joke has been that ethically architects have to discuss sustainability, and for many owners that means; architect asks "do you want to set sustainable goals" and owner answers  "No" and architect says "okay, we've discussed sustainability".

In these items you have called for the skills to be required or at least introduced.  Transparency awareness coupled with life cycle calculation skills.  Energy focus coupled with knowledge of systems to model buildings early in the design work, and benefit from that modeling process. Awareness of integrative design along with the tools and skills required to co-learn and lead that process along what can be a winding and challenging path.

i would suggest even clearer skill listings and suggested resources/tools as examples, perhaps.  Maybe a requirement for some ecology coursework so we begin, as professionals, to realize the issues are we/us and not us(humans)/them(nature).  Even so, the recommendations you have made would mean the AIA committments wodl become more solid and certainly moer embedded wihtin the practice and within the practitioners.

Thank you,

Jodi Smits Anderson