Award Programs

Design Excellence Awards

Rules and Requirements

Call for Entries 2021

AIA Chicago presents the 2021 Design Excellence Awards, an annual awards program that honors the best work by Chicago architecture firms found worldwide; as well as Chicago-based projects by national and international firms.

Entries may be submitted by architecture firms based in the Chicago metropolitan area, defined as the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will in Illinois, and Lake and Porter counties in Indiana. Projects may be located anywhere in the world.

Projects located within the metropolitan area but designed by architecture firms based outside Chicago may also be submitted.

Projects must be designed by registered architects.

Projects must be completed in the last five years unless otherwise noted (June 1, 2016–June 4, 2021)

Firms are encouraged to re-enter projects previously submitted if they did not win an award. Projects that have received an AIA Chicago award are not eligible for another award in the same award competition, but they may be entered in a different competition. - The same project may be submitted in multiple competitions.

If the design team includes more than one firm, any member of the team may submit the joint project. All members of the design team must be acknowledged in the entry, and a member of the non-submitting firm(s) must provide a release indicating that they are aware of the submission.

Each entry will be judged for the success with which it meets the individual project program, intent and requirements. Each entry will be weighed individually for its merits, not in competition with each other.

Any project that credits a jury member or a jury member's firm as architect, associate architect, consultant, or client is ineligible and will be disqualified if submitted.

All firms submitting to the 2021 Design Excellence Awards will be required to have signed on to the 2030 Commitment. By joining the 2030 Commitment, you are asserting your firm’s commitment to energy performance and adapting your practice to stand behind that value. To join the 2030 Commitment, you will need to register your firm through the Design Data Exchange. The registration will ask you to upload a Commitment letter signed by your firm’s leadership (template is provided on the DDx registration site). To sign up (it's easy!) visit:

About the Categories

Distinguished Building Award

The purpose of the Distinguished Building Award program is to recognize excellence and distinction in architecture. The jury will be looking for work that sets itself apart from the norm according to such considerations as the:

Concept for the project;

Detailing and execution of the design concept;

Achievement of difficult or unusual program goals;

Originality of design;

Image created for the client through the project.

Interior Architecture Award

The purpose of the Interior Architecture Award program is to recognize excellence and distinction in interior architecture. The jury will be looking for work that sets itself apart from the norm according to such considerations as the:

Concept for the project;

Detailing and execution of the design concept;

Achievement of difficult or unusual program goals;

Originality of design;

Image created for the client through the project.

Divine Detail Award

The purpose of the Divine Detail Award is to recognize an instance in which the expression of architectural theory becomes an artistic medium, defining the relationship between architecture and craft. Projects should illustrate the governing design concept of the building in which the detail is found through the use of a particular material, detail or technology. The jury will be looking for work that sets itself apart from the norm according to such considerations as the:

Concept for the detail;

Originality of the design;

Execution of the design concept;

How the detail relates to the goals of the overall project.

Entry Fees

AIA Members: $175 per submitted project
Non Members: $275 per submitted project
Entry fees are nonrefundable. There is no limit to the number of entries that may be submitted by an individual firm.


Please note that rules and regulations have been updated since 2015.

AIA Chicago reserves the right to disqualify any submission not adhering to these requirements and may rescind any award so bestowed.


  • Images include drawings and photos.
  • Sufficient documentation to describe the project context, special considerations, and innovative design
  • Maximum 10, minimum 4 pages/slides, arranged in the order you wish them to be viewed.
  • Please include one black "title" slide in addition to the 10 (maximum) images/floorplans. This slide should have the project name on a black background.
  • No more than 2 drawings or photos per page/slide.
  • Site plan and floor plan as appropriate to the project are mandatory, including North arrow and graphic scale.
  • REQUIRED FOR DISTINGUISHED BUILDING AWARD: One image showing each exposed side of the building or environment.
  • REQUIRED FOR INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE AWARD: One image showing the building's exterior.
  • REQUIRED FOR ALL CATEGORIES: Site plan and floor plan as appropriate to the project, including North arrow and graphic scale.
  • Maximum size per file: 20 MB; JPEGS only.

Images may be edited to improve contrast ratio, color balance, and composition through cropping. Images may not be edited to add, remove, or alter any aspect or element of the project including its context. Images should represent the project as it exists in the built environment. Artistic composition must not confuse the jury as to the nature of the project.

Project designers may not be revealed in any of the submitted materials.


Project name and location (city, state, and country if outside the United States)

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Written information shall be limited to 250 words, including: Statement of program and contextual background. In addition, include any special challenges or considerations, unique and/or innovative solutions, lessons learned, or other information pertinent to the understanding of the project.

Project authorship may not be revealed in any of the submitted materials


Climate change is everyone’s crisis, and architects are uniquely positioned to help solve it. The AIA calls on architects around the world to support humanity’s collective call to climate action through an unrelenting commitment to sustainable and resilient design. To advance the goal of addressing climate change, AIA Chicago is asking for information that will allow the jury to assess sustainable design features in every project.

You will be asked if your firm has signed on to the AIA 2030 Commitment and if you have reported any project data to the Design Data Exchange (DDx). 2030 Commitment is required for all entrants.

The following guidelines apply to entries in the Distinguished Building Award and Interior Architecture Award categories.

Entries in the Divine Detail Award category should complete as many measures as are relevant to the project.

Tell us how your project addresses each of the 10 AIA Framework for Design Excellence measures. For each measure, you can write up to 250 words.

If you are submitting to the Distinguished Building or Interior Architecture categories, you are required to respond to ALL 10 Framework questions

If you are submitting to the Divine Detail category, you are asked to respond to as many as are relevant to your project. 

The Framework for Design Excellence represents the defining principles of good design in the 21st century. Comprised of 10 principles and accompanied by searching questions, the Framework seeks to inform progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment. These are to be thoughtfully considered by designer and client at the initiation of every project and incorporated into the work as appropriate to the project scope. The Framework is intended to be accessible and relevant for every architect, every client, and every project, regardless of size, typology, or aspiration.

The 10 Framework measures are:

1. Design for Integration: What is the big idea behind this project and how did the approach toward sustainability inform the design concept?

2. Design for Equitable Communities: How does this project contribute to creating a walkable, human-scaled community inside and outside the property lines?

3. Design for Ecology: In what ways does the design respond to the ecology of its place?

4. Design for Water: How does the project relate to the regional watershed?

5. Design for Economy: How does the project efficiently meet the program and design challenges and provide “more with less?”

6. Design for Energy: Are the project’s design and systems energy-efficient and sustainable while improving building performance, function, comfort, and enjoyment?

7. Design for Wellness: How does the design promote the health of the occupants?

8. Design for Resources: What materials selection criteria and considerations were implemented and how did design efforts optimize the amount of material used on the project?

9. Design for Change: Is the building resilient, and able to easily accommodate other future uses?

10. Design for Discovery: What lessons for better design have been learned through the process of project design, construction, and occupancy, and how have these been incorporated in subsequent projects?

A New Commendation

The jury will be asked to give special consideration to projects that meet or exceed the AIA Framework for Design Excellence and to projects with aggressive decarbonization goals aligned with the AIA Climate Action Plan. Exemplary projects may be recognized by the jury with a Sustainability Commendation at their discretion.

Design Credit

The intent of the awards is to honor those firms and individuals responsible for the submitted designs. AIA Chicago has always honored other team members as part of the awards process. However, it is critical to the integrity of the awards that the primary actor receive the primary credit. Entering the competition is a representation that the submitting firm is responsible for the submitted design. This must be the case or the entry is not eligible for consideration.

The architect or firm of record, associated architects, project team, consultants, general contractor, and client shall be identified on submission forms. Client names will be withheld from publication on request. Submissions from architects working as an employee or consultant to a firm must include a release from a principal of that firm acknowledging that the submitting architect had primary design responsibility and that project credits are correct.

Photo Release

Please provide photo credit information upon uploading images. You will find detailed instructions on how to input photo credits and captions in the 'Images' tab. DO NOT INSERT CREDITS OR CAPTIONS ONTO THE IMAGE.
Credits should be listed as they would appear in print and online. Note that by uploading images, you are agreeing that your firm has prior licensing approval to use the images and allow AIA Chicago to display them for promotional and marketing purposes with proper attribution.


The AIA Chicago office will notify winners immediately following the jury deliberations. Non-winners will be notified by mail or e-mail. No public announcement of any awards will be made by AIA Chicago prior to the awards presentation at Designight. Winners are asked not to make their own announcements prior to Designight.


The Design Excellence Awards will be presented at Designight. Award certificates will be given to the architect, owner, and contractor for each project. Winning projects will be documented in Chicago Architect magazine. AIA Chicago will also undertake a public relations campaign on behalf of the winners.

Submission Format

Awards will be accepted only through the Award Force platform. 

2021 JURY

Distinguished Building Award

  • Kathy Dixon, FAIA, NOMAC; K. Dixon Architecture PLLC (KDA)
  • Janet Tam, FAIA; Noll & Tam Architects
  • Brian Phillips, FAIA; ISA

Interior Architecture Award

  • Alec Holser, FAIA; Opsis
  • Dominique Davidson, AIA; DRAW
  • Nicholas Brinen, FAIA; Studio Figure LLC

Divine Detail Award

  • Kara Bouillette, AIA; SixTwentyOne
  • José Alvarez, AIA; EskewDumezRipple
  • Osama Quotah, AIA; LMN Architects

View Prior Winners and Submissions Galleries