Design Awards  

the WBDG Aesthetics Subcommittee


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 Center

The Emerson Global Data Center in St. Louis, Missouri, received a Citation in the 2009 SBIC Beyond Green Awards program.

Exterior photo of The Bullitt Center, Seattle, WA

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 Architect
Photo 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. Photo 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.

  • 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 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 regarding this program, please contact the Program Administrator, Joseph Simone.

  • 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 Design Awards submission categories and requirements email or call (202) 841-0601. For information on the GSA Design Excellence Program, contact the Office of Design and Construction at (202) 501-1888 .

  • 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

Association Telephone Awards Submission Date
American Consulting Council of Engineering Companies 202-347-7474 Yes Check 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
202-626-7586 19 awards Varies
American Institute of Steel Construction 312-670-2400 Yes Varies
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air Conditioning Engineers 404-636-8400 Yes Awards Divided into two groups: submission dates are in May and December
American Society of Interior Design 202-546-3240 Yes Varies
American Society of Landscape Architects 202-686-2752 Yes May
Associated Builders & Contractors 703-812-2000 Yes November
Association for Facilities Engineering 513-489-2473 Facilities America July
Building Owners and Managers Association International 202-408-2662 Yes August
Construction Management Association of America 703-356-2622 Yes June
Holcim Awards +41 58 858 8292 Yes March-April
Illuminating Engineering Society 212-248-5000 Yes January
Institute of Industrial Engineers 770-449-0461 Yes October–December
International Association of Lighting Designers 312-527-3677 Yes February
International Facility Management Association 713-623-4362 Program under major changes December
International Risk Management Institute 972-960-7693 Yes August
National Association of the Remodeling Industry   Yes See website for various award categories and more information.
RCI (formerly Roof Consultants Institute) 919-859-0742 Document Competition Before March
Society of Plastics Engineers 203-775-0471 People in Industry Products November–December
Sustainable Buildings Industry Council 202-289-1092 Beyond Green Awards November
U.S. Green Building Council   Chapter awards See website for more information
Western Council of Construction Consumers 800-966-WCCC
Yes October