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: San Antonio, Texas
Principals: Ted Flato, FAIA; Andrew Herdeg, AIA
Founded: 1984
Size: 65 employees
Little-known fact: "The spirit of the firm is best exemplified by our Flake|Lato Weekend. For over twenty five years, members of the firm and their families have gathered at Kickapoo Ranch in West Texas for a weekend of swimming, fishing, camping, and mountain biking that celebrates our shared love of the outdoors and our unique community."

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your 2012 COTE Top Ten Project, the Arizona State University (ASU) Polytechnical Academic District?
Ted Flato: In the harsh and hot Arizona climate, we had to learn how to successfully shield the building and its occupants from the sun, yet also let an appropriate amount of indirect light into the space. Due to budgetary constraints and opportunities related to the region, we were able to pull all building circulation to the exterior. This developed the atrium concept while also providing shaded shortcuts through campus. We also applied a unique approach to corrugated metal panels, where the faces of the corrugation were perforated differently depending on orientation. For instance, when it faced the courtyard, it was more transparent,; and when it faced the sun, it was more opaque.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
It is important to truly understand the climate, context, site use of the land, and the buildings that will sit on the land.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?
Sustainability describes ecosystems that thrive in a dynamic balance particular to their place. Each element of a sustainable system balances itself against other aligned and competing elements to create a unique fit within its natural context. Lake|Flato believes that good design requires us to seek this same balance within our own work. Each design must find its particular fit relative to intended use, cultural context, and the natural environment. Simply defined, sustainable design is smart design. It looks beyond the building and considers the larger context. We strive to create restorative environments that enhance our understanding and relationship to the natural world.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
As stewards of the natural environment and our client's resources, we shape every project with empirical environmental knowledge and energy modeling, resulting in sustainable strategies that artfully respond to each site's unique context. We benchmark building-energy performance from early-stage modeling through completion to verify the efficacy of our designs and strategies. This data allows us to measure our progress towards our goal of carbon neutral design by the year 2030, in fulfillment of our commitment to the 2030 Challenge.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions might become standard?
Inherent to sustainability is a science of the materials used. The design isn't just about creating something that looks good—it's about creating something that functions in its climate and context, and is rooted in its place.

More information about the ASU Polytechnical Academic District is available here.