One of the highest honors from the American Institute of Architects goes to the climate-conscious Texas firm, whose vision interweaves responsible and vernacular approaches to create spaces with minimal burden on the planet while strengthening our ties to it.
Texas—a car-centric state grappling with unprecedented growth and the deleterious effects of climate change—may seem like an unlikely place for an architecture firm focused on championing sustainability to thrive, but Lake|Flato Architects continues to defy the odds. Since David Lake and Ted Flato founded their award-winning firm in San Antonio four decades ago, the duo has distinguished themselves not only as gifted architects upholding the rich legacy of Texas modernism, but as steadfast advocates of responsible design who refuse to shy away from the environmental and sociopolitical issues inextricably linked with the practice. The firm is best known for its dreamy ranch houses, but its earth-friendly approach also extends to schools, parks, and breweries that put community and accessibility first.
That may explain why Lake|Flato has received the AIA’s coveted Gold Medal. The association’s most prestigious accolade recognizes those whose “body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.” While the firm checks that box, the jurors cited the Dixon Water Foundation’s Josey Pavilion—Texas’s first Living Building Challenge–certified project—and Mississippi’s Marine Education Center, built on a site ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, as examples of the firm’s positive impact echoing in Texas and beyond. Besides repurposing three million square feet of existing space into housing, hotels, and offices, the firm has also preserved public access to 50,000 acres of land in Texas and restored 35,000 acres of ecological habitat across the East Coast.
“David Lake and Ted Flato have done more to change the outcome of the human story through their inclusive design process than any other architect or practice,” wrote Bob Berkebile, FAIA, in a letter nominating the duo. “Across the country, their buildings are wonderful, but ultimately it’s their ability to craft sustainable, high-performance buildings and inclusive places welcoming for both the public and our fellow design professionals that’s their true legacy, a legacy deserving of the Gold Medal.”
How the firm interweaves nature, beauty, and resilience throughout its portfolio has earned more than 300 awards, but the founders are most pleased with their 15 nods from the AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Award, which recognizes sustainable design excellence. That’s the most in the industry—a record befitting a certified B Corp headquartered in the same building where Lake and Flato founded the office in 1984. “Design in all its facets should be woven into our daily lives,” the pair said. “We all must seek to build healthy communities and welcoming places intrinsically rooted and responsive to local culture, climate, and context with a vision for respecting diverse perspectives. We’ve always believed that architecture can make us more connected to nature.”