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COTE Definition and Measures of Sustainable Design

Sustainability envisions the enduring prosperity of all living things.

Sustainable design seeks to create communities, buildings, and products that contribute to this vision.

To paraphrase educator and author David Orr: Sustainable design is the careful meshing of human purposes with the larger patterns and flows of the natural world.

To paraphrase architect Bill Reed: Sustainable design is a process that supports and improves the health of the systems that sustain life.

AIA/COTE 10 Measures of Sustainable Design

Sustainable Design Intent and Innovation

Sustainable design is rooted in a mindset that understands humans as an integral part of nature and responsible for stewardship of natural systems. Sustainable design begins with a connection to personal values and embraces the ecological, economic, and social circumstances of a project. Architectural expression itself comes from this intent, responding to the specifics region, watershed, community, neighborhood, and site.

Regional/Community Design and Connectivity

Sustainable design recognizes the unique cultural and natural character of place, promotes regional and community identity, contributes to public space and community interaction, and seeks to reduce auto travel and parking requirements and promote alternative transit strategies.

Land Use and Site Ecology

Sustainable design reveals how natural systems can thrive in the presence of human development, relates to ecosystems at different scales, and creates, re-creates or preserves open space, permeable groundscape, and/or on-site ecosystems.

Bioclimatic Design

Sustainable design conserves resources and optimizes human comfort through connections with the flows of bioclimatic region, using place-based design to benefit from free energies—sun, wind, and water. In footprint, section, orientation, and massing, sustainable design responds to site, sun path, breezes, and seasonal and daily cycles.

Light and Air

Sustainable design creates a comfortable and healthy interior environment while providing abundant daylight and fresh air. Daylight, lighting design, natural ventilation, improved indoor air quality, and views, enhance the vital human link to nature.

Water Cycle

Recognizing water as an essential resource, sustainable design conserves water supplies, manages site water and drainage, and capitalizes on renewable site sources using water-conserving strategies, fixtures, appliances, and equipment.

Energy Flows and Energy Future

Rooted in passive strategies, sustainable design contributes to energy conservation by reducing or eliminating the need for lighting and mechanical heating and cooling. Smaller and more efficient building systems reduce pollution and improve building performance and comfort. Controls and technologies, lighting strategies, and on-site renewable energy should be employed with long-term impacts in mind.

Materials, Building Envelope, and Construction

Using a life cycle lens, selection of materials and products can conserve resources, reduce the impacts of harvest/manufacture/transport, improve building performance, and secure human health and comfort. High-performance building envelopes improve comfort and reduce energy use and pollution. Sustainable design promotes recycling through the life of the building.

Long Life, Loose Fit

Sustainable design seeks to optimize ecological, social, and economic value over time. Materials, systems, and design solutions enhance versatility, durability, and adaptive reuse potential. Sustainable design begins with right-sizing and foresees future adaptations.

Collective Wisdom and Feedback Loops

Sustainable design recognizes that the most intelligent design strategies evolve over time through shared knowledge within a large community. Lessons learned from the integrated design process and from the site and building themselves over time should contribute to building performance, occupant satisfaction, and design of future projects.


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