Understanding the prompt

The AIA Film Challenge 2021 prompt is to to share stories of architects, civic leaders, and their communities working together to achieve a zero-carbon, resilient, healthy, just, and equitable built environment. Your film must address at least one of the categories outlined in the prompt. Read on to better understand what that means.


Good design reduces energy use and eliminates dependence on fossil fuels while improving building performance, function, comfort, and enjoyment.

  • The building is certified as a net zero energy building, which creates as much energy as it uses through renewable sources (typically PV or wind) over the course of a year.
  • For a net zero carbon building, the building must offset as much operational carbon as it uses over the course of a year. This can include some mix of on-site renewables and off-site renewable energy credits.
  • The project prioritizes energy efficiency and the use of on-site renewables over the use of renewable energy credits.
  • The project has a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), with which a portion of the building or site is leased to a third party for on-site renewable energy. The owner receives the benefits of a low carbon energy source without substantial first costs of the renewable systems.


Adaptability, resilience, and reuse are essential to good design, which seeks to enhance usability, functionality, and value over time.

  • The design is shaped around the project’s goals and performance criteria, providing utility, beauty, and delight to the community.
  • The design allows for natural daylight to circulate throughout the day and natural ventilation through operable windows.
  • The project protects and benefits natural ecosystems and habitats that surround it.
  • The architects anticipated the major risks that the building is likely to face over its lifetime and determined strategies to prepare for them. Examples include hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, utility disruptions, hail, war, etc.
  • The project contributes to and strengthens its community. Resilience depends on both the building and the community. A building might or might not be resilient in the face of disruption, but its recovery will ultimately be determined by the strength of the community.
  • Consider phased recovery. Incorporate strategies for both immediate assistance during a disruption (such as use of a community shelter) and for an eventual return to normal (e.g., using durable materials that need little maintenance).
  • The building provides “more with less” through cost-effective design decisions, economic performance analysis, economic equity strategies, notable return-on-investment outcomes, contributions to local and disadvantaged economies, etc.
  • The architects selected safer materials and products to reduce negative environmental impacts while enhancing building performance.


A project that helps create a healthy world should support the comfort, health, and wellbeing of the people who inhabit or visit the building.

  • A project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, like an alternative care site.
  • Strategic design choices that optimize the project’s natural and artificial lighting.
  • The project addresses the main factors of thermal comfort, including but not limited to air temperature, humidity, and air movement.
  • Effective strategies to enhance indoor air quality are implemented, such as high-quality air filtration systems and the use of healthy building materials.
  • Good health is a great indicator of happiness. Projects that promote human health, such as providing nutritious food and opportunities for exercise, will promote happiness as well.
  • The project provides an authentic connection to nature.

Just and equitable

The AIA code of ethics states that architects should employ their professional knowledge and skill to design buildings and spaces that will enhance and facilitate human dignity and the health, safety, and welfare of the individual and the public. Just projects prioritize this people-focused, inclusive design to create social equity and increase desired positive change. Examples of this include:

  • Architects engaged an inclusive community during the design and development process.
  • The project promotes alternative forms of transportation, giving community members freedom to choose among multiple ways to safely and comfortably commute to the building.
  • Improved access – wide entrances, smooth thresholds, and ramps–benefit the physically disabled, families with strollers, bicycle commuters, and those with temporary physical injuries.
  • The project is accessible to those at an economic disadvantage through on-site amenities, welcoming public spaces, and special programs, such as free museum nights.
  • The architect researched the site or community to understand its history and deepen the meaning of the project’s concept.
  • The design team includes diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Diverse teams are usually more creative and innovative. Their design solutions are often more comprehensive.
  • The architecture is used to encourage chance encounters instead of grouping those with similar backgrounds. This can be done through centralized communal spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms, that everyone needs to visit. Wide stairs that are well daylit and prominently located are also great places for impromptu conversations and connections.

Please keep in mind that your film must address at least one of the categories outlined in the prompt, but not all.

For more details, visit AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence.