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2023 Design Awards Resources & FAQ's


Deadline Extended for all Design Awards submissions: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2023, 11:59 PM FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2023, 11:59 PM


Q: Who is eligible to submit?
A: Anyone meeting eligibility requirements may submit. Massachusetts AIA firm members receive special pricing for all categories. Associate AIA and students receive special pricing for the Unbuilt Planning & Design category.

Associate AIA members and other unlicensed design professionals, including interior architects or interior designers, may submit projects that do not require the stamp of a licensed professional.

Q: I work for a Boston-based firm that just completed a project in Seattle; are we eligible?
A: Projects by New England design professionals may be located anywhere. Projects by non-Massachusetts design professionals must be located in New England.

For Unbuilt Planning & Design:

Planning: Projects by New England design professionals may be located anywhere. Projects by non-Massachusetts design professionals must be located in New England.

Conceptual: Projects and designers may be located anywhere in the world.

Q: My firm has offices nationwide, including Boston. We just completed a project in Philadelphia. Are we eligible to submit?
A: If your Massachusetts AIA office was the lead design team, yes, you are eligible.

Q: When must have eligible projects been built?
A: Projects must have been completed within the past 5 years; between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2022. A project completed in March 2023 (for example) is not eligible.

For the Urban Design/Planning category, “initiated” shall mean a completed or an incomplete project, where a significant portion has been completed, implemented, or adopted by a local jurisdiction, authority, institution, or private client.

For Unbuilt Planning & Design:

Planning: Projects initiated within the past 5 years: between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2022

Conceptual: Projects must not be completed or under review for construction and there is no current intent to build.


Q: What are the current categories for the Design Awards?
A: The BSA Design Awards program no longer runs on cycles, so you may submit projects of any type for consideration.

We have structured the Design Awards program into 3 divisions – to recognize the diversity of our members and to create a system for jury reviews of both metrics and design based on typology. Divisions include:

BUILT DESIGN EXCELLENCE – recognizing measured design excellence through performance metrics in all completed projects

SMALL FIRMS – recognizing design excellence through performance narratives in all completed projects. Eligible for firms of 10 or fewer employees.

UNBUILT PLANNING & DESIGN – recognizing the promise of design excellence in the broadest possible range of research, conceptual exploration and innovation in design thinking for initiated and theoretical projects.

HARLESTON PARKER MEDAL – recognizing the most beautiful piece of architecture, building, monument or structure within the City or Metropolitan Parks District limits.

HARLESTON PARKER PEOPLE’S CHOICE – by public vote, recognizes the most beautiful piece of architecture, building, monument or structure within the City or Metropolitan Parks District limits, based on medal finalists.

Note: Nominations for the Harleston Parker Medal close in March. Voting for the People’s Choice Award opens in January.

Design Excellence and Small Firms project types can include:

  • Adaptive Reuse, Renovation or Historic Preservation: Renovations of existing buildings, renovations or preservations of existing buildings, historic preservation of building with a historic background, or buildings where the original intent has been transformed for a new purpose
  • Civic & Cultural Facilities: Spaces rooted in communities, bridging diverse people and thinking, while sparking growth and development.
    --Community Centers: space group activities, social support, public information—for religious, safety or political use
    Libraries: public, academic, school libraries and special libraries
    Museums: spaces that house collections of art, history, or other objects—whether permanent or temporary.
  • Commercial: Hotels, offices, and retail spaces
    --Hospitality: establishments for food and beverage hospitality, including bars, restaurants, cafes, etc.—and accommodations hospitality—hotels, motels, inns, etc. Campus, healthcare, office, and similar buildings are not eligible in their own right, but hospitality facilities within such buildings are eligible.
    Workplace Spaces: office buildings, corporate headquarters, studios, or co-working spaces
  • Educational Facilities: Technology-driven, student-centered solutions that inspire discovery, offer safety and respond to changing educational landscapes.
    --K-12 Education Facilities: private or public; pre-K, elementary, and secondary education facilities
    Higher Education Facilities: private or public; community colleges or universities
  • Housing
    Single Family/Residential: Single-family detached residential space, consisting of one- to four-unit dwellings
    Multi-Family/Residential: Any residential space intended for two or more families, consisting of four or more units. This category should not include university dorms, hotels, or any other commercial, institutional or education project.
    Specialized Housing: Housing that meets the unique needs of other specialized housing types such as student/faculty housing, elderly and supportive housing, homeless housing, and single room occupancy residences.
    --Mixed Use: Space that blends residential, commercial, industrial, entertainment into one space.
  • Institutional Facilities:
    --Healthcare Facilities: hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, medical office buildings, mental health care facilities, and in-school clinics. Assisted-living, retirement, childcare, and similar facilities are not eligible in their own right, but healthcare facilities within such facilities may be submitted.
    Life Science Facilities: office, laboratory, research or manufacturing facilities focused on pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, etc. that promote scientific advancement
  • Interior Architecture: Shaping interior space using evidence-based design strategies to achieve functional built interior environments, addressing new challenges, working sustainably and supporting health and well-being.
  • Urban Design & Master Planning: The planning and design of a broad array of spaces at varying scales: public spaces, civic plazas, connections/places between buildings, stadiums, campus plans, regional master plans, redevelopment, as well as environmental programs, placemaking, wayfinding, and infrastructure/transit/mobility.
  • Other: If your project type is not listed, you may enter it here for consideration. Juries will review and may decide to place the submission in a category.

Unbuilt Planning & Design categories can include:

  • Conceptual: Purely theoretical projects – not commissioned by a client
  • Planning: Planning, placemaking design, strategic plans, guidelines, infrastructure, tools, processes, or any other project type – must have an actual, identifiable client

Q: Are awards still being awarded for the project categories?
A: That depends. At the jury's discretion, the number of awards and award recognition in any category may be given to as many or as few projects as are deemed worthy by the jury. The jury's decisions are final and not subject to review.

Q: Can one project be submitted to multiple categories?
A: Yes, but you must submit and pay for each category separately.

While you may submit projects to multiple categories, we recommend crafting your narrative specifically for the appropriate category.

Q: My project is in a design phase and is not completed. Which category or division do I select?
A: It depends on the project. For Built Design Excellence or Small Firms: Urban Design and Master Planning: projects must be “initiated” (completed or an incomplete), where a significant portion has been completed, implemented, or adopted by a local jurisdiction, authority, institution, or private client.

For Unbuilt Planning: Projects (such as housing, civic & cultural facilities, etc) must be initiated within the past 5 years: between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2022

Q: Can I submit a project that was previously submitted to the BSA Design Awards?
A: Yes – you may resubmit a (Built or Small Firms) project, so long as it didn’t receive a BSA Design Award and is also still eligible.

Keep in mind – criteria and requirements may have changed since a previous submission. We encourage submitters to craft a current narrative, and using this opportunity to provide any updated metrics.

Q: Can Small Firms submit to the Built category?
A: Yes, Small Firms may submit projects to the Built Design Excellence category. Please keep in mind, performance metrics are required and play a key role in evaluations.

Q: Is there a Sustainable Design category?
A. No. Sustainable design, including Framework measures of Design for Energy, should be achieved for all project types and categories, and embedded into all design work in order to achieve 2050 carbon neutral goals.

Q: Is there an Accessible Design category?
A: No. Accessible design is a human right, and accessibility should be considered within all projects.

In support of the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB), Built Design Excellence and Small Firms submissions may be eligible for accessible design achievement for:

  1. Thomas P. Hopkins Memorial Award projects are public buildings and facilities to which Massachusetts statute 521 CMR applies.
  2. Private Residential projects address an individual’s personal accessibility needs.
  3. William D. Smith Memorial Award projects integrate accessibility with historic preservation.

For residential or housing, and public and commercial buildings, entries may be for entire facilities or site-specific solutions, which might include exteriors (ramps, signage, campuses, landscape); interiors (entries, bathrooms, hardware, lifts, details); or buildings. Entries will be judged in part on effectiveness in integrating the specific access solution into the overall project design. You can opt in or opt out for consideration during the submission process.

Q: Can I submit an Unbuilt Planning and Design Award project if it received a previous BSA Design Award or an award in another design competition?
A: If your current project submission has a very different conceptualization than the previous award(s) – yes, you may submit.

Q: If an unbuilt design is submitted (and wins an award) and then the built version of the project is a very different design, can the built project be submitted later? Yes and no. If this was submitted in the Planning category for Unbuilt and wins an award, the project is not eligible for resubmission as a future Built Design Excellence of Small Firms project.

However, if a final, built version has a very different conceptualization from the original plans, then yes, you can submit. For conceptual projects, there should be no intent to build.

Submission Process

Sample Built Design Excellence & Small Firms Application

Review submission application questions.

2023 Built Design Excellence Small Firms Submission Form Template

Sample Unbuilt Planning & Design Application

Review submission application questions.

2023 Unbuilt Design Planning Submission Form Template

Q. How do I submit my project?
A. All entries are made using our online awards platform. You must create an account or hold a current account in order to submit your project. The BSA uses OpenWater as our platform.

Q. Do I need to create an account and submit my application on the same day?
A: No, once you create an account and begin the application process, you may return to your application (located in the drafts folder) to complete or make edits. You must enter your completed project submission and payment by the deadline.

We strongly recommend that you begin the account process early to review the questions and be comfortable with the submission platform. Do not wait until the last minute to create an account as it may delay your submission entry!

Q. When do I pay for my application?
A. Entry fees are processed at the time of your submission. Please ensure you allow payment processing time that does not run past the deadline time.

Q: I have not signed the AIA 2023 Commitment. Is signing this required to be eligible?
A: You may still submit to the Design Awards. Affirmation is included in the Common App worksheet. (For Unbuilt Planning & Design, affirmation is included in the submission form).

The AIA 2030 Commitment is an actionable climate strategy that gives us a set of standards and goals for reaching net zero emissions in the built environment. You may learn more here.

Q: What are the key dates for Awards?
June 15, 2023 – Submissions open
June-August, 2023 – Awards overview program, Common App and awards office hours and awards resources available
September 15, 2023 – Submission deadlines. All Awards submissions must be uploaded and completed online with payment by 11:59pm

September 29, 2023Submission deadlines extended! All Awards submissions must be uploaded and completed online with payment by 11:59pm
Early December 2023 – Jury reviews completed
Mid-December 2023 – Jury deliberations and award selection
January 2024 – Award notifications & announcements
Early 2024 – Design Awards Gala (date tbd)


Q: What type of information should be included in the Project Narrative?
A: In general, we encourage precise and focus on the big picture impact. Please be aware that juries are reviewing many projects within a limited time. Some projects might need some more explanatory text and some less. Narratives should include the program requirements, goals, solutions, and challenges – supporting your Common App information.

Impact Advancements are explored by juries to understand the concepts and considerations that drove the values of good design. This is the opportunity to narrate your project’s process and impact, including:

  • Social Advancement – demonstrating a commitment to social progress through proposing new approaches to the development of architectural and/or urban form.
    • Community Engagement – an entire community and/or representative stakeholders are substantially involved and engaged in the decision-making processes, and community involvement has influenced project outcomes.
    • Community Benefit – project addresses a need(s) and demonstrates benefit(s) to the community.
    • Economic Disparity – architecture or the design process has reduced disparities in the economics of the larger community or individuals served by the project.
    • Health Outcomes – project improves health, safety, or well-being outcomes for the larger community or individuals served by the project.
    • Educational Inequity – project addresses inequities in our education system and those that increase the social responsibility of education.
  • Technical Advancement – exploring new technologies and/or their architectural applications
    • Technical aspects of building design, including engineering achievements
    • Technology that greatly improved collaboration, innovation, and creativity
    • Technology that resulted in improved economic, environmental, or social outcomes of the project
  • Environmental Advancement – demonstrating a commitment to environmentally sensitive design, sustainability and/or energy/resources conservation
    • Excellence in demonstrating ecological stewardship, including reduced environmental impact and reduced energy consumption, as well as attention to quality of life issues, resiliency, and community engagement within the environment.
  • Demonstrating efforts to reduce energy use in occupancy of the building.
  • Innovative solutions reducing embodied energy/carbon use in the building’s design and construction.

Q: Is there a size recommendation for the Build & Small Firms portfolios?
A: For Built Design Excellence and Small Firms – your portfolio should be formatted for digital: 16:9, 8.5” x 11”, or 11” x 17”. The portfolio may be vertical or horizontal, submitted as a pdf.

Q: You only allow 10 pages (for Built Design Excellence and Small Firms). Can we put more than one image per page?
A: Yes, at your discretion you may create composite images. Remember that if any materials to be reviewed by the jury identify your firm, the submission will be disqualified. Files must not exceed 25 MB

Q: We would like to use captions with our images. Is this allowed?
A: Yes, you may use captions at your discretion as long as they are not placed directly over the images. Please keep in mind that the image will be viewed electronically. Text should be big enough to be legible on screen, but we also encourage minimal text. Captions (and any photo credits in the portfolio submission) must not include your firm or client name, even if you or your client are the photographer.

Q: Can I include the name of the client in my submission?
A: Yes, unless you are your own client. In this case, please make sure to remove your name from all imagery.

Q: How do I choose which images to submit?
A: Images should highlight the excellence of the project. They should support the narrative of the project description, and the story that you want to tell about this project. Clear, cohesive plans and images illustrating the structure in context (in situ) are also important. Composite images are allowed, but please remember that the image limit is set with the intent of keeping the content of each submission manageable for jurors to review in the limited time allotted.

Q: Should marketing images be oriented vertically or horizontally?
A: This is up to you as long as images are at least 2000 pixels wide and 300 dpi. However, for publication purposes it is helpful if you include a mix of both vertical and horizontal images in the event that your project is awarded. All file names should accurately credit the photographer or source. Follow the naming convention: #ProjectName_PhotographerName. If the firm is responsible for the image, use #ProjectName_FirmName. Photograph files that are submitted should not include text.

Q: What shouldn’t I include in my awards submission?
A: Exclude or obscure all references to the architect or any consulting firms. Entries that include firm names will be disqualified.

Q: Can I view examples of past winning submissions?
A: Yes. You may find a (growing) library of submissions here and check out winning projects here.

Q: What were the previous Design Awards categories?

Annual categories:

Every two years:

AIA Framework for Design Excellence & Common App

In 2019, the AIA adopted the Framework for Design Excellence as the set of guidelines and requirements to assess project performance. The Framework provides elements and sets standards for buildings that demonstrate progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient and healthy built environment during project evaluation. The Framework and performance metrics serve as a standing reminder of the importance of incorporating high performance strategies into all design projects in order to achieve our 2050 goals. This requires active engagement with your client throughout the design process.

We believe that innovation in the build environment is key to tackling the greatest challenges facing Boston, including the rising threat of climate change. In recognition of the new ways architects are designing sustainable spaces, the BSA has incorporated the AIA Framework for Design Excellence's measures through the Common App , which includes metrics for evaluating how projects respond to the urgency of climate change that promote sustainability, reduce carbon emissions, and promote healthy communities.

BSA Design awards follows AIA’s Design Excellence criteria using the Common App worksheet, as a means for performance assessment goals and providing space for all submitters to tell the project’s sustainability story. Submittals are encouraged to highlight project performance through narratives and metrics in the Common App.

Common App Worksheet. This worksheet should be downloaded as an .xlsx file prior to completing!

The Common App will be the first elements that the jury will see for every submission.


Q: What is the purpose of the Common App?
A: The Common App is the embodiment of the Framework for Design Excellence's values in the AIA Design Awards process. Since 2019, the AIA—at the national, state, and local levels—has started to integrate the Common App into Design Awards programming.

Q: What role does the Common App play during jury evaluation, deliberation, and recognition of award-worthy submissions?
A: The Common App is the first element the jury will see when evaluating every submission. It is a critical companion document that the Technical jury will use to assess the design's intent and outcomes, as well as make recommendations for which submissions advance to finalist pools and win awards via a Design Review.

Q: Is the Common App required for every submission?
A: Yes, every submission in the Built Design Excellence and Small Firms divisions should complete the Common App (metrics if available and worksheet narratives) and upload a saved worksheet. Please take this opportunity to fully describe your project and process.

AIA Framework for Design Excellence

AIA Cote

Q: Do I have to answer every question and/or address all ten measures?
A: Not all 10 measures are required! You should only answer questions/respond to measures that are relevant to your project. It is important to demonstrate how the project performs above and beyond performance goals. If you do not have data to share, do not leave fields blank. Mark “NA” in the fields as needed. At least 3 out of 10 measures must be addressed in narratives portion.

As submissions are subject to varying degrees of opportunity, constraint, and budget, each entry is judged for the success with which it has met its individual requirements. It is therefore important that submissions – through metrics narratives and design - convey to the jury a full understanding of the project.

Q: How do I know if a specific measure in the Common App is relevant to my project?
A: If you and the design team can't answer that question, it probably isn't relevant to your project.

BSA COTE: Implementing the Framework for Design Excellence

This presentation will provide a high level overview of the Framework for Design Excellence principals with a focus on implementation.

Q: What is the advantage of addressing additional Common App measures in my submission?
A: The Common App is the first element the jury will see. Measures that the jury feels should have been addressed in your submission that were overlooked will likely reflect poorly in the jury's assessment.

Q: How can I learn more about filling out the Common App?
A: The links embedded in the Common App are a good starting point. The BSA will be adding more resources for assistance.

Q: What else should I know about the Common App and how else could it be useful for my submission?
A: The Common App is a great document to begin a project, even more so at summarizing one after completion. We encourage you to share it with currently active design teams in preparation for future submissions. The Common App could also be used as a template for structuring your PDF submission.

Q: Why are metrics not required for Small Firms projects?
A: The BSA recognizes that not all firms have the same resources or work with clients the same way. Metrics for Small Firms are strongly encouraged, as the technical jury will primarily evaluate the projects goals through narratives.

Q: I am submitting a project in the Unbuilt category. Do I still need to complete the Common App and provide metrics?
A: No. While metrics are not required, we encourage submitters to consider measures into their design work.


Q: Who are the Design Awards Jurors?
A: Juries will be comprised of both BSA members and other AIA Chapters with expertise in different areas, building types and experience levels. We will announce juries soon!

Q: What is the jury process?
A: The Built Design Excellence and Small Firms divisions will be comprised of a two-phase process:

Technical Review: Common App metrics & work sheet narratives; recommending projects for awards considerations

Design Review: Submission portfolio and project Impact Advancement narrative

The Unbuilt Planning & Design division will be comprised of one jury.

At the jury's discretion, award recognition in any category may be given to as many or as few projects as are deemed worthy by the jury. The jury's decisions are final and not subject to review.


Q: What are the award levels?
A: Projects may be recognized in these levels:

Honor – Representing the highest level of achievement of Design Excellence
Merit – Representing exceptional design, performance, and intent work

Impact Advancement Commendations may be awarded to recognize projects that encompass the values of good design within the context of social responsibility, technology excellence, and sustainability.

Q: Will entrants be notified directly if they receive an award?
A: Yes, all awardees are notified after jury deliberations in late fall. The levels of awards will be announced at the Design Awards ceremony.

Q: How are the honorees recognized?
Honored entries are celebrated at the ceremony, and are featured in


Q: What programs and resources are available to assist with my awards submission?
A: Hopefully, we've answered most of your questions! But, here is a recap of resources that might be useful. We'll also be adding programs and other resources as they become available:

Sample Built Design Excellence & Small Firms application
Sample Unbuilt Planning & Design application
AIA 2030 Commitment
AIA Framework for Design Excellence
Common App worksheet
BSA COTE: Implementing the Framework for Design Excellence webinar
BSA Winning Submissions Library

2023 BSA Design Awards: What Submitters need to know

The session provides an overview of the 2023 submission process and Q&A.


Thursday, June 29: 2030 Commitment 101: Signing On & Getting Started – This is an AIA webinar (please do not contact the BSA for registration)

Thursday, July 20: BSA Design Awards: What Submitters Need to Know.

More Questions?

Contact [email protected] or p: 617-391-4017