Design Awards

by the WBDG Aesthetics Subcommittee

Last updated: 08-10-2015


Design Awards validate a building's aesthetics in the best meaning of the term. Criteria include functionality, durability, and whether a building enriches the people who come in contact with it. Perhaps foremost, design awards honor those projects in which the outward appearance of the building embodies or communicates those individual achievements. In short, design award programs are vehicles to award peer recognition to the creative strengths of building design professionals and to publicize the results of their efforts. Awards are also the consensus of aesthetic ideas and choices among those selecting and evaluating the projects or entries.

Exterior photo Emerson Global Data CenterExterior photo of The Bullitt Center, Seattle, WA

Left: The Emerson Global Data Center in St. Louis, Missouri, received a Citation in the 2009 SBIC Beyond Green Awards program. Right: The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington received an Honor Award in the 2014 SBIC Beyond Green Awards program.

Today, design award programs expand the definition of design excellence, especially by way of thematic competitions. Some programs focus on new and improved methods of construction, socially and environmentally conscious solutions to design problems, and collaboration among the various disciplines required to design and construct a building and excellence among specific building types. Design award programs have also been utilized as a way to gain public support for design, the arts, and other issues through a community-oriented process, while others seek to challenge design standards by a peer review process.

Photo of interior view of the GSA Office of the Chief ArchitectPhoto of interior view of the GSA Office of the Chief Architect

Light-filled, efficient spaces have transformed the GSA Office of the Chief Architect into a model for its mission to improve the quality of Federal design. Winner of 2002 GSA Design Award.
Credits: Lehman-Smith Mcleish, and National Capital Region and Office of the Chief Architect, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration

Design award programs take many forms, from those sponsored by professional organizations such as The American Institute of Architects, to those sponsored by individual building trade organizations. There are many private sector-award programs to which the architect, owner, or building contractor can submit a specific project to gain visibility and prestige.

Design competitions differ from design awards programs; these are usually vehicles for new ideas or for selecting a design team for a specific commission. Firms that have ranked in design competitions usually have a better chance of earning future work of the same caliber, due to the high standards set within the competition and the publicity they receive from it. Design competitions have been employed since Ancient times as a way of selecting the best design, architect, and/or engineer for a building. For information on how to plan and execute a design competition, see WBDG Running a Design Competition.

Federal Design Competitions

The Federal Government recognizes design excellence through several agency specific design competitions that are outlined below.

  • Architect, Landscape Architect, and Interior Designer of the Year Awards Program: Through this program the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognizes its creative and dedicated registered professionals. For current submission categories and requirements.
  • Chief of Engineers Design and Environmental Awards Program: Started in 1965, the Design and Environmental Awards Program seeks to recognize and publicize the achievement of design excellence as it relates to the projects and professional works of various design professions and to the natural and built environment.
  • Naval Facilities Engineering Command—Biennial Design Awards Program: The NAVFAC Design Awards Program, which began in 1997, recognizes specific achievements by Architects, Engineers, Planners, and other professionals accomplishing design work under contract for NAVFAC that demonstrate and promote excellence in both the built and the natural environment. The program seeks to recognize excellence in design activities, design products and associated management activities. For information on submission categories and submission requirements, contact Mike Chapman, NAVFAC, (202) 685-9175.
  • U.S. General Services Administration Design Awards Program: As builder for the federal civilian government, steward of many of our nation's most valued architectural treasures, and manager of the Art-in-Architecture program that incorporates works by outstanding contemporary artists into Federal facilities, GSA contributes to the architectural and artistic legacy in the United States. Through their Design Excellence Program, they seek the best in design, construction, and restoration. The Biennial Design Awards Program honors "the best of the best." For information on the Biennial Design Awards submission categories and requirements and the GSA Design Excellence Program, contact Thomas Grooms, (202) 501-4941.
  • U.S. Air Force Design Awards Program: The purpose of the USAF Design Awards Program is to publicize and recognize projects that have achieved the Air Force goal of design excellence as it relates to the natural and built environment.





Industry Award Programs

AssociationTelephoneAwardsSubmission Date
American Consulting Council of Engineering Companies202-347-7474YesCheck with state Member Associations for state submission dates
The American Institute of Architects
AIA Awards Program, including program information on Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture
AIA Committee on the Environment Top 10 Awards
202-626-758619 awardsVaries
American Institute of Steel Construction312-670-2400YesVaries
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air Conditioning Engineers404-636-8400YesAwards Divided into two groups: submission dates are in May and December
American Society of Interior Design202-546-3240YesVaries
American Society of Landscape Architects202-686-2752YesMay
Associated Builders & Contractors703-812-2000YesNovember
Association for Facilities Engineering513-489-2473Facilities AmericaJuly
Building Owners and Managers Association International202-408-2662YesAugust
Construction Management Association of America703-356-2622YesJune
Holcim Awards+41 58 858 8292YesMarch-April
Illuminating Engineering Society212-248-5000YesJanuary
Institute of Industrial Engineers770-449-0461YesOctober–December
International Association of Lighting Designers312-527-3677YesFebruary
International Facility Management Association713-623-4362Program under major changesDecember
International Risk Management Institute972-960-7693YesAugust
National Association of the Remodeling Industry YesSee website for various award categories and more information.
RCI (formerly Roof Consultants Institute)919-859-0742Document CompetitionBefore March
Society of Plastics Engineers203-775-0471People in Industry ProductsNovember–December
Sustainable Buildings Industry Council202-289-1092Beyond Green AwardsNovember
U.S. Green Building Council Chapter awardsSee website for more information
Western Council of Construction Consumers800-966-WCCC