Research project II

Cartographie théorique des enjeux et stratégies durables dans les concours canadien de design pour l'espace public (2003-2011)

Grant Organization :
Fonds Quebecois de recherche société et culture

Project leader :
Carmela Cucuzzella

Students :
Anne Saint-Laurent (UdM)
Matthew MacKay-Lyons (Concordia University)
Lupe Perez (Concordia University)
Rachel Tardif (Concordia University)
Sheena HoszKo (Concordia University)

Research Abstract:
In 1998, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). In 2003, this environmental standard was launched in Canada by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). Since then, architectural projects and in particular, architectural competitions in Canada have increasingly adopted this standard to address sustainability. However, as this standard only focuses on the environmental pillar of sustainability, the question that arises is: how have architects and planners dealt with the other pillars of sustainability in their projects? More specifically: how have the questions and strategies regarding sustainability evolved since 2003 in Canadian architectural competitions - in the competition brief, in the proposals by the competing architects and in the way these projects are finally judged in order to select the winning project? The objective of this research is to chart out these developing questions, concerns and strategies by constructing a map (cartography) and categorizing these within the four sustainability pillars (culture, social, environmental and economic) for the period of 2003-2011. This mapping will provide a first perspective of how public planners, architects and the jurors of public design competitions address the sustainability concerns in Canada. The pertinence of this research is that the results may help improve the way in which the sustainability issues are addressed in upcoming Canadian design projects for planning public space through this mapping - a mapping which provides an understanding of the current direction.


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Cucuzzella, C.. 2011. Design Thinking and the Precautionary Principle: Development of a Theoretical Model Complementing Preventive Judgment for Design for Sustainability enriched through a Study of Architectural Competitions adopting LEED, Faculté de l'aménagement, Université de Montréal, Montreal.

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Research project I

Counter-Productive Effects of Environmental Evaluation Tools on the Conception of Projects and the Assessment of Quality in the Architectural and Urban Design of Canadian Public Spaces (1987-2012)

Project leader :
Carmela Cucuzzella
Jean-Pierre Chupin

Students :
Anne Saint-Laurent (UdM)
Manon Bruel
Marie Andrée Bérubé

Research Abstract:
This research aims at identifying, analysing and categorizing the most prominent and recurrent counter-productive effects of environmental tools (i.e. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - LEED). Research on evaluation tools and methods for assessing dimensions of sustainability has been exponentially growing since the early 70’s and are mostly focused on environmental performance optimization. There is a substantial disciplinary gap between this body of research, and the shallow body of research on how such tools are affecting the conception of projects and the assessment of the overall quality of design projects. This gap has consequences on the quality of public spaces and buildings.

In 1987 the classic definition of sustainable development was agreed upon during the World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland, 1987), and in 2003, LEED was first introduced in Canada. There are many examples of sustainable projects long before these two historical markers, but today the recourse of LEED has been considered the best way to achieve the highest standards of environmental performance. Yet, it is becoming increasingly clearer that some unanticipated counter-productive effects are observed. Designers regard the contradictions of the excessive quantitative and reductive constraints engendered by these tools, and clients/users find it increasingly harder to define the level of eco-efficiency that should be expected in order to define and attain the optimal quality in the realization of these public spaces. Among the paradoxes of these unexpected effects could be that LEED is not re-enforcing or strengthening the definition of architectural quality, but may rather distance from and fragment this definition.

This research revolves around two hypotheses and an exemplary empirical situation. The first hypothesis considers the realm of the conception of projects and stresses that designers may be increasingly searching for ways to bypass the lack of holistic vision of environmental tools, by forging biological and/or natural analogies meant to counter-act the excessive quantitative dimension of tools like LEED.

The second hypothesis points to a distinction between evaluation and judgment and explores a potential divergence between designers, who rely on the complexity of a qualitative judgment process, while environmental experts proceed on a ‘technical evaluation. These two hypotheses, which relate to two different sources of indicators and empirical data, scientifically converge on one specific case of public procurement, that of the architectural and urban design competition. Considered by more and more research teams as an empirical situation allowing comparative analysis, a competition process is an equation of evaluation, comparison, and judgment.

This research project will analyse Canadian competitions organized between 1987-2012 through a methodological apparatus leading to the production of new knowledge on: (1) a categorization of counter-effects of environmental tools in the Canadian production of public spaces; (2) trajectories and pitfalls of qualitative judgment and expert evaluation processes in competition situations; and (3) the recourse of biological and/or natural analogical figures (both verbal and visual) in architecture and urban design project representation.

Results of this research will benefit design studies, history of design and sustainability, competition studies and project management in the various disciplines of design, including architecture and urbanism. The main actors of public procurement will also find new markers for rendering more appropriate the use of environmental tools in the complex processes of the production of public spaces in Canada.


Brundtland, Gro Harlem. (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steele, James. (2005). Architecture ecologique: Une histoire critique. London: Thames & Hudson.