2023 Design Excellence Awards Rules and Regulations


AIA Chicago’s Design Excellence Awards honor the outstanding work of AIA Chicago members and their firms, reinforce the value of great architecture, and highlight members’ contributions in designing equitable and sustainable places and spaces. 

Award Levels 

Honor Award 
This is the highest possible honor, which recognizes projects that exemplify excellence in architectural design on all levels and recognize the highest standards to which AIA members aspire. Unanimous approval by the jurors is required. At least one Honor Award will be given for each of the Project Categories. 

Citation of Merit 
Granted to projects which display a high standard of architectural quality and design, as deemed unanimously or by a consensus of jury members. The number of Citation of Merit awards is given at the discretion of the jury.

Decarbonization Award (Optional) 
Firms have the option of also submitting their project for the Decarbonization Award. To be considered for the Decarbonization Award, entrants must already be submitting a project in the Architecture or Interior Architecture categories. No extra fee is required. This award requires additional information and data.  

A project may be awarded either an Honor Award or the Citation of Merit, as well as the special Decarbonization Award. A project may win the Decarbonization Award without winning an Honor Award or Citation of Merit. 

People’s Choice Award (Optional)
Firms have the option of checking a box to include their submitted project for consideration in the new People’s Choice Award. Sponsored in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Center, this award is optional and will be judged separately by the public. Only projects submitted to the 2023 AIA Chicago Design Excellence Awards will be eligible. 


  • Entries must be submitted by architecture firms with at least one AIA Chicago member. Projects may be located anywhere in the world.
  • Projects located within the Chicago metropolitan area but designed by AIA members based outside Chicago may also be submitted. 
  • All entrants, including all involved architectural team members, must be able to answer ‘Yes’ to the Unpaid Labor Declaration Policy established by national AIA. See the online submission form for details. Exemptions are noted for students and other types of Pro Bono work.
  • Projects must be designed by registered architects.
  • All AIA member entrants must be able to answer ‘Yes’ and affirm abidance to the national AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. See the online submission form for details.
  • All firms submitting to the 2023 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, register your firm through the Design Data Exchange (DDx). The registration will ask you to upload a Commitment letter signed by your firm's leadership (template is provided on the DDx registration site). https://2030ddx.aia.org/registerFirm
  • All firms submitting to the 2023 Design Excellence Awards are required to be up to date with project reporting to the Firm Portfolio in the 2030 Design Data Exchange (DDx) at the time of submission. It is suggested, but not required, that the submitted project be included in the Firm Portfolio.
  • If the project is to be submitted for the Decarbonization Award, then the submitted project MUST be reported to the Entrants’ DDx for that specific project. Previous AIA Chicago Design Excellence award-winning projects may be resubmitted for consideration for a Decarbonization Award if the project was completed within the last five years (April 25, 2018–April 26, 2023).
  • Built projects must be completed in the last five years (April 25, 2018–April 26, 2023). Built projects are defined as having obtained an occupancy permit or certified as Substantially Complete.
  • Firms are encouraged to re-enter projects that have not previously won an award from AIA Chicago.  Projects that have received an AIA Chicago Award for either Design Excellence or Small Projects in previous years are not eligible for another award. 

Entry Fees and Deadlines 

The submission fee is $225 per entry. Firms that employ 10 or fewer total staff will receive a 20% discount upon checkout. This discount will be applied automatically when you check the box of firm size on the registration form. AIA Chicago reserves the right to revoke the discount if found to be selected in error.

No additional charge is required for entry into the Decarbonization Award or for consideration in the People’s Choice Award. 

Once you register and begin a submission, you will be able to access and save during the open submission period or until you hit the final submit button. Revisions will not be possible after the final upload is complete. Refunds will not be issued for entries that are disqualified, withdrawn, incomplete, or late. The submission deadline is strictly observed; no exceptions will be made. 

Submissions open: Friday, April 26, 2023 
Submissions deadline: Friday, June 2, 2023 at 6:00pm Central

Project Categories 

Entrants must select from one (and only one) of the following eight categories that best represents their submitted project. As noted above, a project may also submit for the Decarbonization Award by submitting additional information. 

If a project previously won an AIA Chicago Divine Detail Award (for the detail) in the previous five years, the entire building may be re-entered this year in the most appropriate size category. 

Architecture: Enclosed projects where a minimum 50% of the enclosure is new/restored/replaced or civic infrastructure or plans at various scales. 

  • Architecture XS (Extra Small); Max 6,000 SF 
    • Examples: Additions, Pavilions, Micro-Homes, Street Furniture
  • Architecture S (Small); Max 25,000 SF
    • Examples: Large Residential, Commercial, Library, Religious, Community Center
  • Architecture M (Medium); Max 250,000 SF
    • Examples: MultiFamily, Museums, K-12 Schools, University, Courthouse
  • Architecture L (Large);* Max 1,000,000 SF
    • Examples: Mid to Highrise, Museums, Hospitality, Healthcare, Resorts
  • Architecture XL (Extra Large);* 1,000,000+ SF
    • Examples: Supertall, Convention Centers, Mass Transit, Stadiums, Urban Planning

*AIA Chicago reserves the right to combine L and XL categories depending on total number of entries. 

Interior Architecture: Includes projects within an existing enclosure, interior exhibits/installations, projects with minor exterior replacement/restoration/less than 50% revision. Projects that are storefront or façade restoration only are also acceptable for this category. 

  • Interior Architecture S (Small); Max 2,500 SF  
    • Examples: Storefront, Kiosks, Residential, Exhibitions, Renovations
  • Interior Architecture M (Medium); Max 20,000 SF 
    • Examples: Commercial, Residential, Healthcare, Hospitality
  • Interior Architecture L (Large); 20,000+ SF 
    • Examples: Healthcare, Hospitality, Government, Headquarters, Education


  • If the design team includes more than one firm, any AIA Chicago member of the team may submit the joint project. However, ALL members of the design team must be acknowledged in the entry, and all non-submitting firm(s) must be notified. The submitting firm must have already obtained the permission necessary to include all named contributors in the submission.
  • If the scope of the submitted project is only a portion of a larger design or part of a master plan, proper acknowledgment and credit must be provided and clarified for the larger context should it appear in your submittal.   
  • 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.

Decarbonization Award

The purpose of the Decarbonization Award is to recognize those projects that have gone above and beyond base level energy reduction goals. To be considered for the Decarbonization Award, entrants must submit a project first in the Architecture or Interior Architecture categories. 

Recognizing a greater need for the built environment to use less energy in construction, material use and occupied energy consumption, the goal of this award is to showcase those project vanguards that exemplify the profession’s abilities to pursue the goals of the 2030 Commitment without compromise to the to the functional and aesthetic goals of the project. 

In addition to the requirements of a Design Excellence award, projects must also be in operation for at least 12 months prior to submission deadline and must provide additional information for judging to a special jury of professional experts for this award.   

Previous AIA Chicago Design Excellence award-winning projects may be resubmitted for consideration for a Decarbonization Award if the project was completed within the last five years (April 25, 2018–April 26, 2023).  

People’s Choice Award 

Firms have the option of checking a box to include their submitted project for consideration in the new People’s Choice Award. Sponsored in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Center, this award is optional and will be judged separately by the public. Only projects submitted to the 2023 AIA Chicago Design Excellence Awards will be eligible.  

Judging and Evaluation Criteria 

The 2023 AIA Chicago Design Excellence Awards celebrate design excellence regardless of budget, size, style, or type, and recognize the range of outstanding work by AIA Chicago and AIA architects and their positive contributions to our communities.   

The jury evaluates entries based on how successfully projects have met their individual requirements while clearly conveying the project’s vision. Entries are judged individually – not in competition with each other. Jurors will consider each submittal holistically, including but not limited to the following: 

  • Physical organization and form, including attention to composition and detail; 
  • Response to program, site, geographic, and/or urban context; 
  • Innovation and originality in concept, process, materials, building systems, and/or implementation; 
  • Demonstration of exemplary environmental and social awareness.

Juries and Jury Process 

All projects will be evaluated by the jury anonymously. No firm information will be visible to the jury, and they agree not to do any external research, evaluating each project on the merits of the information submitted for the award. All jurors live and work outside the Chicago region.

Jury A will evaluate Architecture XS and S projects and Interior Architecture S and M projects. It will be comprised of five experts who practice within this project scale and the majority will be AIA members. 

Jury B will evaluate Architecture M, L, and XL projects and Interior Architecture L projects. It will be comprised of five experts who practice within this project scale and the majority will be AIA members.

Jury C will evaluate the Decarbonization Award and will consist of three jurors selected for their acknowledged expertise. Jury C will consider the following:

  • Analysis of the provided metrics based on similar scale and type of project. It is not the intention that submitted projects are judged in direct comparison to one another but how well they perform beyond the baseline, in conjunction with the additional criteria below. 
  • The design team’s efforts to reduce energy use in occupancy of the building. 
  • Innovative solutions reducing embodied energy/carbon use in the building’s design and construction.
  • How well the design and choices of the team meet the goals of the client in the outcome of the project. 

Submission Application Details 

AIA Chicago reserves the right to disqualify any submission not adhering to these requirements and may rescind any award so bestowed. All entries are via the Award Force platform and input is limited within the software. There is no alternative method of submission. 

Do NOT include any identifying firm information on submittals.

Please note that submissions will be digitally reviewed onscreen by jurors.  We encourage entrants to consider this when preparing images and content for upload. 

If your project scope is within the larger context of a space designed by another architect or firm, and the work of that contextual firm appears within your submission, it is the sole responsibility of the entrant to clarify, give credit and receive permission of the adjacent designer to include the contextual work in entrant’s submission.  If a project was a joint venture or utilized the services of a local Architect of Record these designers must be acknowledged and scope clarified. Please also see Design Credit, Photo Release, and Indemnification information below. 


  • Image 1: Promotional Image, to be used by AIA Chicago for marketing purposes 
  • Image 2: Site plan and floor plan as appropriate to the project, including North arrow and graphic scale, are required 
  • Image 3 - 15: As required below: 
    • One photograph showing each exposed side of the building or environment must be included.
    • Images/Drawings to show context, special considerations, and innovative design.
    • NO COLLAGED SLIDES ARE ALLOWED. Only ONE image or drawing per slide.
    • “Images” means drawings or photos.
    • Captions must include photography credit and cardinal direction of exposed side.
    • 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.
    • All images MUST be captioned with:
      • View (cardinal direction view or floorplan), write N/A if applicable 
      • Photographer name 
      • Photographer business name (if applicable)  
    • Note: Jurors will review submissions on a digital platform; therefore, legibility and pixel size should be considered. A "Drawing" is graphic lines deployed by the Architect on one "Sheet" (or image). If that drawing converts to a JPEG through a single process and yields a clean and legible image for the jury, that is the intent of this requirement. If the Drawing "Sheet" contains more than one drawing: plan and section, two plans, axonometric plans, etc. AND legibly conveys to jurors site context, orientation, scale, and layout of the project while maintaining visual clarity - that is the intent. The complexity of a project may require more than one "Sheet" to legibly convey intent to Jury.  We suggest if drawing is legible in an 8.5" x 11" printout of the JPEG, then the drawing will be comprehensible to the jury. Some projects need more photos, some need more drawings - but all jurors require context, orientation, and scale. 

Required Text 

  •  Project Excerpt – Summary for jurors and used for marketing purposes; 100 words max. 
  • Challenges and resolution to achieve client/design goals; 250 words max.  
  • Explain unique design features and originality of the design; 250 words max. 
  • AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence; Check 1-3 boxes that apply. Entrants are encouraged to showcase how the relevant Framework for Design Excellence categories selected were realized within the descriptions.

Decarbonization Award additional content and data  

  • Confirm project has been reported to DDx. The jury will evaluate the project based on the details submitted there in addition to information submitted on the form explained below. 
  • Within Award Force, complete the Decarbonization Award submission form which focuses on the following information:
    • Basic project information, included but not limited to type, size, structure, climate zone, certifications, and energy sources;
    • Project narratives on strategies, challenges, and achievements of the project in pursuit of the goals espoused in the 2030 Challenge. 

Design Credit 

The intent of the awards is to honor 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 receives the primary credit. Entering the competition is an acknowledgement 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 must 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 

 Provide photo credit information when uploading images. Detailed instructions on how to input photo credits and captions are 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, entrants confirm 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. 


AIA Chicago is not able to independently verify the information and claims made by entrants in their submittal and thus, AIA Chicago assumes all members will follow the national AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Standards. As such, entrants shall indemnify AIA Chicago from any liability for erroneous information or content within the submittal. As noted above, entrants shall assume sole responsibility for design and photo credits and copyrights that allow the Chapter to award, represent and promote projects and designers selected by the juries. 


The AIA Chicago office will notify finalists following the final jury deliberations. Non-winners will be notified by email prior to Designight. No public announcement of any awards will be made by AIA Chicago prior to the awards presentation at Designight. Winners are kindly asked not to make their own announcements prior to Designight. Winners of the People’s Choice Awards will be announced by the Chicago Architecture Center at Designight 2023. 


Please contact Ashley Spell, Director of Education and Awards at AIA Chicago.

*Please note: Items in teal are new for 2023.