To delve deeper into our coverage of the 2012 COTE Top Ten Awards, ECO-STRUCTURE asked the winning firms to detail their experiences with sustainable design. These offices didn’t just happen upon a winning scheme—rather, they’re all well-versed in making high-performance strategies an integral part of each project. Below we take a closer look at some of the core values that shape each firm’s ethos.

Location: Duluth, Minn.
Principal: David D. Salmela, FAIA
Founded: 1994
Size: 3.5 employees
Little-known fact: "We are a small design firm yet do nearly all of our construction documents."

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your 2012 COTE Top Ten Project, the classroom building at the University of Minnesota, Duluth?
David Salmela: The best case is when the client is the proponent of sustainability but wants the architecture to advance and have effect on the architectural vocabulary.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
It takes a lot of time to achieve sustainable goals within high design standards.

What is your firm's philosophy on sustainable design?
We have always supported sustainable principles and try to do as much as we can within the budget of the project.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?
All projects should have a sustainable explanation. The reduction of the telescoping of cold through structure is a necessary mean in our northern climate.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions might become standard?
Future good clients will demand green solutions that are realistic and achievable.

More information about the classroom building at the University of Minnesota, Duluth is available here.