2019 Architecture Firm Award Recipient

Every year, the AIA recognizes one firm that has produced notable architecture for at least a decade.


A collective of 140 designers operating at the apex of technologically complex buildings, Boston’s Payette challenges conventional hypotheses and cultivates design innovation without preconception. The think-tank environment established by the firm’s third generation of principals bolsters a spirit of entrepreneurship and discovery that leads to work exemplifying architectural excellence and the higher ideals of service to humanity.

Since the firm’s founding, in 1932, Payette has been dedicated to finding a balance between delivering innovative complex research, scientific, and healthcare projects, and addressing the critical issues facing the world at large. The firm’s pursuits have been widely recognized with nearly 150 design awards since 1998, including two AIA/COTE Top Ten Awards, the AIA/IDP Outstanding Firm Award, and the Chicago Athenaeum 2018 American Architecture Award.

Despite the firm’s singular name, through its 86 years it has demonstrated a propensity for sustaining itself through deep investment in its youth. Now led by a team of 10 partners, building science is a central tenant of Payette’s design process, and its portfolio is bursting with beautiful buildings designed with rigor and guidance from overarching themes of building craft, embedded nature, energy efficiency, and programmatic complexity.

“While their design work is truly exemplary, it is their commitment to the profession and the manner in which they practice that really stands out. Their internal culture is one of curiosity and inclusiveness, resulting in a vibrant studio workshop powered by research and collaboration,” wrote Scott Wolf, FAIA, in a letter supporting Payette’s nomination for the Firm Award. “Their dedicated leadership team, which has seamlessly evolved in recent years, has created a practice that is based on strategic thinking, a rigorous design process, and an unwavering commitment to serving their clients.”

Payette’s ideology is evident in projects such as the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex at Northeastern University in Boston. A marvel of beauty and pragmatism, the building has risen as a new campus landmark with a sustainable agenda on an urban brownfield site. The building’s dynamic skin was developed through custom software that accurately simulates solar performance, allowing the firm to optimize its sunshading. Inside, offices are cooled through a cascade air system wherein air is drawn down through the building’s atrium, recycled, and fed into the high-energy research spaces.

In Ireland, the firm’s approach for the National University of Ireland, Galway Research Bundle embraces the country’s mild climate. Its most mechanically intensive spaces—primarily imaging suites and tissue culture labs—are consolidated into distinct areas and surrounded by less intense spaces. The arrangement, coupled with the 182,000-square-foot building’s glazed interior partitions, allows for 80 percent of the floor area to be naturally daylit; it requires mechanical heating and cooling less than 10 percent of the year.

“The importance and contribution here of Payette is that they are today taking some of the most energy intensive and technologically challenging building types we have to new levels of design and integrated performance,” wrote Stephen Kieran, FAIA, supporting Payette’s nomination. “The breadth and depth of this transformation position Payette as a model for future practice.”

Dedication to the profession is deeply embedded in Payette’s culture, and more than 50 percent of its staff volunteers in communities beyond the practice. Many of the firm’s employees are active in the AIA and hold leadership positions at the regional level, or are active in a number of national committees, such as Women in Design and Research and Innovation.

“Payette shows that a long-established firm can take conscious action to become a leader in both inclusion and performance—all the while doing beautiful work,” wrote Z Smith, FAIA, in a letter supporting Payette’s nomination. “Payette has created a culture where a woman leads the conversation about building envelope design, and a man excuses himself from the workshop to go pick up the kids—all while winning more design awards than ever and raising aggregate energy savings of their design portfolio to 54 percent better than the AIA 2030 benchmark.”


The Architecture Firm Award is conferred by the AIA Board of Directors and the AIA Strategic Council.

2019 Advisory Jury

Kelly M. Hayes-McAlonie, FAIA, Chair, Director of Campus Planning at University of Buffalo, Buffalo, New York

Dan Hart, FAIA, Principal at Parkhill Smith & Cooper, Inc., Midland, Texas

Lori Krejci, AIA, Founder and Principal at Avant Architects, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska

Dr. Pamela R. Moran, Superintendent at Albemarle County Public Schools, Charlottesville, Virginia

Antoine Predock, FAIA, Principal at Antoine Predock Architects, Albuquerque, New Mexico

David B. Richards, FAIA, CEO and Principal at Rossetti, Detroit, MI

Emily A. Roush-Elliott, AIA, Social Impact Architect at Delta DB, Greenwood, Mississippi

Rafael Viñoly-Menendez, AIA, Principal at LMN Architects, Seattle, WA

Image credits


Warren Jagger Photography


Chuck Choi


Karen Robichaud Payette


Robert Benson Photography


Chuck Choi