To delve deeper into our coverage of the 2012 COTE Top Ten Awards, ECO-STRUCTURE asked the winning firms to detail their experiences with sustainable design. These offices didn’t just happen upon a winning scheme—rather, they’re all well-versed in making high-performance strategies an integral part of each project. Below we take a closer look at some of the core values that shape each firm’s ethos.

Location: Kansas City, Mo. (The Des Moines, Iowa, office oversaw the 2012 COTE Top Ten Project.) Additional offices in Houston, San Diego, and Los Angeles
Principals: Rod Kruse, FAIA, principal in charge; Carey Nagle, AIA, lead designer and project architect
Founded: 1970
Size: 79 employees
Little-known fact: One of BNIM's founding principals, Bob Berkebile, founded the AIA Committee on the Environment and was a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your 2012 COTE Top Ten project, the Iowa Utiltiies Board Office of Consumer Advocate Office Building?
Rod Kruse: The team frequently evaluated information to make the best decisions for the project, discovering that prescriptions and seemingly good ideas can’t be taken at face value. Here are several examples:

1. LEED requirements limit the energy-reduction credit for occupancy sensor–controlled lighting and plug loads. However, the team felt that these were appropriate for a demonstration facility, predicting that they would pay off under true operating conditions. Actual energy-use data supports the design team’s prediction.

2. Grant funding was available for small vertical-axis wind turbines. Upon studying available wind, there was not sufficient production potential, making it irresponsible to employ this strategy and diminish its potential in other circumstances.

3. The team analyzed optimal orientation strategies with regard to glazing and massing prior to any system design.

4. In an iterative daylighting design process, the team aesthetically favored a dense louver screen over a lightshelf. Ultimately, less-dense parabolic-profiled louvers were developed to reflect high-angle summer daylight deeper into the footprint while achieving an appropriate balance of glare control and daylighting under cloud cover. Modeling verified that 10-inch-deep blades at 10-inch spacing would capture daylight down to eye level, whereas a lightshelf would operate only above circulation.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
We have found that an integrated design process, which is both an organized collaboration between disciplines and an interweaving of building systems, is the only way to produce architecture that is environmentally responsible and well designed. Integrated design also focuses on the triple bottom line of finding environmental, social, and economic balance for our projects. Our integrated design approach allows us to bring together teams of experts in a variety of fields, and to apply best practices in technology and methodology to create holistic, interconnected design experiences and built projects. For the IUB/OCA Office Building, and any of our other projects, we have determined that this close interaction within the project team is best at uncovering ways that a given project can reach its performance goals—and often exceed them. Also on the IUB/OCA Office Building, we discovered that a blend of multiple passive and active strategies contributed to the performance metrics that were achieved. The holistic design ensures that the building is high-performing at many different levels, and that siting, shading, systems, materials, and other strategies perform in tandem with each other.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?
BNIM has made sustainability a way of life. We understand the implications of today’s choices on future generations. It is our goal to use planning and design as tools to renew communities and provoke healthy living and healthy environments. At the root of our dedication is our sincere belief that informed sustainable decisions have a threefold benefit in being economically beneficial, socially responsible, and environmentally sound. This triple bottom line influences each of our projects.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
Our mission is to deliver beautiful, integrated living environments that inspire change and enhance the human condition. As a result, the highest level of sustainable, high-performance design that we can possibly achieve is our baseline for each project. This can vary from project to project, but our integrated design approach is a constant, ensuring that every project that we work on is targeting a triple bottom line balance with its solution.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions might become standard?
We have found that the key to achieving innovative green solutions as a standard is twofold:

First, the solution has to demonstrate value to the client. This can be through cost savings from energy performance, lowered operational and maintenance costs, and more efficient and effective employees.

Second, as with any "new" solution, the more that the sustainable products and strategies are adopted, constructed and implemented, the more efficient the architecture and design industry becomes at designing and constructing them, which is key to creating a pattern for deeply sustainable design to become the norm.

More information about BNIM's 2012 COTE Top Ten Project, Iowa Utilities Board Office of Consumer Advocate Building, is available here.