Skip to content

BSA News

Jan 19, 2023

Talking Design Awards with Timothy Lock AIA


Tim Locke AIA. Photo courtesy OPAL.

We spoke to Timothy Lock AIA of AIA Maine, who served on multiple Design Awards juries during this cycle, about why sustainable design is good design, the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, and more.

A veteran of many design awards programs, this year Lock sat on every BSA jury save one. He's an expert in sustainable and institutional design and was part of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) when the AIA Framework for Design Excellence was developed. This year, the BSA asked Design Awards applicants to respond to each of the Framework's 10 categories.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Can you give a little background about yourself and your work, and how you have been involved with design awards previously?

I am management partner at OPAL, an architecture firm in Belfast, Maine. We’re leaders in sustainable design, ecological design, and high-performance building design. That’s been the foundation of our practice, which now goes back about 13 years.

My involvement with awards stems from my involvement with the AIA. I’m on the Board of Directors for AIA Maine, and I’m co-chair of AIA Maine’s Committee on the Environment. I sit on the national Strategic Council as Maine’s representative. I’ve been on many, many juries in the past, and was excited to participate in the BSA’s jury this year—particularly to look at things through the lens of sustainable design and translate the Framework for Design Excellence for fellow jurors.

How did you center the AIA Framework for Design Excellence during the jury process, and what was it like to “translate” it for your peers?

I had the benefit of being part of COTE, which developed the Framework back in 2018. That made it easier, as someone who knows the Framework fairly well. At our practice we use the Framework in all our projects—not just for reporting for awards, but to manage the project itself, because it’s a really good resource from AIA that’s free for any member. It can be used as a way to develop a project through design, so it’s actually a really powerful tool. My familiarity with it allowed me to interpret award entries.

It’s the first year the BSA has asked applicants for Awards to respond to all ten measures of the Framework, which is interesting, because I think through that you had a double education process happening simultaneously. Applicants were learning about the criteria, but going into deliberations, not all jury members were familiar with the Framework, either. It was helpful to have somebody in the virtual room to translate what the goals of each of the ten measures are. I was really excited to see my colleagues on the jury who hadn’t been engaged with the Framework before start to understand the criteria. These are all colleagues who will likely be submitting for their own awards at some point, so to be able to raise awareness for all of membership, not just applicants, is a great opportunity for any chapter—that’s where we get some reach on leveraging climate goals.

Since projects vary widely depending on their category and not each project can fulfill all of the criteria in the Framework, can you talk about how you strove to strike a balance while judging?

In each of the juries, the other jurors in the room were often experts in the particular typology of project submitted in the category. This helped us understand where we could be more flexible against the Framework. For instance, the first jury I sat in on was healthcare design. Healthcare is at a disadvantage in the energy category in the Framework, because of all of equipment needed in the buildings. Keeping that in mind is good for having that balance, because sometimes it’s hard to just look at a number and evaluate outside of the context. We had to make decisions subjectively—comparing projects to each other within the category, but also considering the category itself. This was also true for other categories. For example, none of the interior design projects are really dealing with site ecology because they’re working inside of a building.

Interestingly, though, experts on the juries started to discuss how the Framework could help them make changes down the road. This happened on pretty much every jury, which was really exciting! I heard a lot of people say things like “as an interior designer, I took it for granted that there are materials I have to use, but maybe I can use the Framework as leverage to discuss using more sustainable materials with clients…” Certain projects, because of what they are, might have a harder time meeting some of the measures, but that’s also what’s really great about the Framework and its diverse categories. Never, when the Framework was being developed, was there an expectation that designers could devote equal attention to all the criteria—no project is going to score perfectly.

What values of a project do you think the design community needs to focus on and elevate?

We’re a bit of a crossroads here—we had 10 to 15 solid years of architects starting to understand the importance of adopting sustainability measures. As the tools to evaluate those measures start to ramp up, there’s now a lack of understanding that buildings, all told, have the greatest effect on global warming. As architects, we have a lot of responsibility, but to me and our firm, that also means there’s a lot of opportunity. We all got into this to design good things and positive outcomes, and a positive outcome doesn’t just have to be limited to how something looks. Getting architects to understand how important their own role is requires a bit of a change of mindset.

Energy has to be conserved—as exciting as new tech and renewables are, they’re still not as critical as just using less. As a designer, that’s sometimes a hard thing to hear—we want to create buildings with style and aesthetic flourishes. But learning how to make [aesthetics and sustainability] work together is a design problem under the domain of architecture. It’s a huge opportunity, not a challenge, that’s going to put you in a position to be recognized—something that most people want, but might not have thought of this as a pathway towards. Big chapters like the BSA making the Framework a requirement for awards is a huge step in that direction.

How do you think architects and designers can achieve a balance between fulfilling clients’ needs and implementing sustainability measures?

I do a fair amount of lecturing to small or emerging firms that want to know how to combine sustainable high-performance building with award-winning design. What I say to them and to everyone is that we need to stop thinking about our clients as a roadblock—they’re coming to us for a reason, and see us as experts. If you really commit to learning more, and expand the umbrella of what covers your expertise within your practice, they’ll see you as an expert in those criteria as well. We don’t want to stop winning design awards just because we took on sustainability goals—the two have to go together.

Start educating clients as an expert, literally, from day one—when you’re being interviewed—because clients, most of the time, are already there. They live in the same culture we do, and they also want to be a good steward of the environment. They may not be asking for it directly—they may not even know they want it—but that’s why you’re there.

Why are design awards important?

Change can’t happen without some form of accountability and some form of incentive. Our profession exists within a greater cultural and economic system, so you have limited levers. If we want to change the system of the discipline, the incentive structure is a great lever to pull, because a lot of AIA members are members in the first place because they want to submit for awards. Awards might be the biggest tool we have to incentivize, to say: at this time in history, a project that doesn’t combat climate change is not good design and can’t win a design award.