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LPA Inc. Named ENR California's Design Firm of the Year 2012

By Robert Carlsen

This article originally appeared on california.construction.com.

June 05, 2012
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Images courtesy of LPA Inc.
CSU Northridge's Student Recreation Center is designed to exceed state energy standards by 28%.

A three-office California design firm that has made sustainability central to its projects, large and small, was chosen by the editors of the ENR regional publications as the Design Firm of the Year 2012.

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LPA Inc., Irvine, rose in this year's Top Design Firms ranking to No. 17 from No. 20 last year as its revenue climbed 11%, to $48.2 million—a notable accomplishment in the still-tough architectural market.

The 47-year-old firm, which also has offices in Rose-ville and San Diego, focuses on education, from K-12 schools through universities, as well as on corporate and public-sector projects. It provides a range of services: architecture, sustainability, planning, interior design, landscape architecture, graphics and engineering, including structural, plumbing, mechanical, electrical and civil.

What also sets LPA apart is its deep green character. For example, more than 80% of its 200 employees are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professionals.

"We are creating a new model for the industry," says Dan Heinfeld, president. "We've become an integrated design firm that uses sustainability to lead the design process in which solving problems is valued over chasing fashion."

Heinfeld says the firm has been concentrating on education projects since the early 1990s. But he has seen rapid changes in that market over the past three years.

"There are fewer projects down the line, and those that are coming are smaller in size and scale," he says. "We're still working in that sector, but future funding in this state has become an issue, obviously, and projects now rely almost exclusively on local bonds and are not totally reliant on state funding."

In the state's tight-budget environment, one of the keys to LPA's new model is creating "more sustainability with less," according to Heinfeld. Cases in point are two projects, both LEED-Gold rated, that were recently completed for California public universities.

The $32-million Recreation and Wellness Center at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, used an inventive approach to tilt-up concrete that allowed the building to operate without an active heating system, even though it is located in the often chilly Bay Area hills. The project was financed totally with student fees.

The Student Recreation Center for California State University, Northridge is designed to exceed by 28% the state's Title 24 energy-efficiency requirements. The folding profile of the 138,000-sq-ft building contains numerous sustainable elements including: displacement ventilation, solar control fins and screens, use of recycled materials, a rooftop photovoltaic array, water-efficient native landscaping, low-flow plumbing fixtures, rainwater harvesting, Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products and natural daylight for 90% of its usable space.

LPA's project portfolio has had 35 consecutive years of award recognition by American Institute of Architects chapters. Last year, the AIA Orange County chapter gave the firm six of its 16 awards and the American Public Works Association named LPA's Fullerton Public Library expansion and renovation project its Project of the Year.

LPA recently completed expansions of its Irvine and San Diego office locations. It views both offices as "sustainability labs" for trying new features and technologies before using them on client projects. Those components include fuel cells, LED lighting, vegetative walls, light louvers, daylight-controlled sun shades, operable windows and tubular daylighting systems. Both expansion projects are on track to receive LEED-Gold certification, officials at the firm say.

With completion of the Malibu Library in May, LPA now has 30 finished LEED projects and another 40 in design or construction phases, according to Heinfeld. "By the numbers, this makes us one of the most experienced LEED firms in the state," he says. "Regardless of a project's size or program, we believe that every project can, and should, have a sustainable quotient."

Smaller Scale

The Malibu Library is an example of "more sustainability with less" on a relatively small project. The $6-million, 17,000-sq-ft renovation makes a 1970s building "feel three times larger, lighter and brighter" than before, according to Rick D'Amato, LPA's senior designer and principal. The plan? "Hollow out the existing library building shell and reinterpret the space to accommodate a modern, high-tech facility," D'Amato says.

The library had only one glazed opening, at the building's far south end. To allow natural light to filter deep into the space, several round clerestory structures were added. Fixed windows were removed and replaced with glass bifold doors that connect the interior with a new 3,500-sq-ft garden.

The building has many green design elements, including extensive reuse of interior, non-structural components and materials, efficient indirect and direct lighting fixtures that use less power and daylighting controls that maximize energy performance.

In addition, it has low-flow and dual-flush plumbing fixtures that reduce the building's water consumption by 35%. The library's landscaping features drought-tolerant California native plants and a more efficient irrigation system was installed.

The library's exterior is clad in large, sustainable, pressed panels detailed in varying shades of blue to mirror the colors of the sea. A dramatic "wave" inside the library is made from recycled milk bottle acrylic panels.

Recycled materials exceed 20% of all materials used in the project and more than 20% of the products were manufactured within a 500-mile radius of the library, says D'Amato, whose LPA team on the project also includes Jim Wirick and Chris Lentz.

LPA also recently completed an interior renovation at the new offices of Southland Industries, a mechanical-engineering firm in Garden Grove. Remodeled to achieve a LEED-Gold rating, the 36,000-sq-ft building now includes displacement ventilation, chilled beams, fan-powered induction units and an energy-efficient central plant.

Southland CEO Ted Lynch says the large open space is a "day and night" change from the former configuration. He praises LPA's "collaborating" efforts in the design and construction phases.

Next up for the firm are two new clients: the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum's ExplorOcean exhibit in the historic Balboa Fun Zone and The Academy, a charter high school for at-risk and foster children. The project owner is the Orangewood Children's Foundation in Orange Grove.

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