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Sustainable by design: Irvine-based LPA works to solve problems rather than chase fashion

Sustainable by design: Irvine-based LPA works to solve problems rather than chase fashion

Erik Ring, a LEED fellow and principal at LPA, was the first engineer to join the company in 2007.

“Our firm has for a long time been interested in perusing sustainable design and green projects, and sustaining water has been important to us since before the drought,” he said.

He added it is important to be conscious of energy use, not just water use during the drought. He has also found that his clients are now more accepting of using gray-water recovery systems.

Richard Bienvenu, the design director of landscape, and Gus Puertas, a project manager and landscape architect at LPA, said drought tolerant landscapes are becoming more accepted, and save money for the property owner in the long run.

Lantana, escallonia, bougainvillea, dietes, flax and lonicera are some specific plants Bienvenu recommends.

Puertas said while there may be some initial cost to installing artificial turf or other drought friendly plants, the property owner could see their water bill decrease 30 percent to 50 percent. Gardening services would also be required far less frequently.

John Wayne Airport, Tustin Market Place, Blizzard Entertainment and Asics America, Laguna Niguel’s city center, the Park Place luxury condos in Irvine and Coastline Community College.

Those are just a few Orange County landmarks and buildings crafted by Irvine-based design firm LPA, whose architects have touched dozens of projects, big and small, in the company’s 50 years of business.

The firm was founded in Orange in 1965 by Leason Pomeroy III. Sleek designs that incorporate sharp lines and open spaces are hallmarks of a company that boasts an integrated staff of 290 designer, engineers and landscapers.

Its long history hasn’t been without controversy. During its first large-scale public project – the addition of JWA’s signature terminal in the late-1980s – LPA was embroiled in a long battle over budget overruns and missed deadlines that cost the county millions of dollars. Pomeroy stepped down as chairman of the board in 1999.

The airport missteps didn’t keep the company from growing into one of the state’s largest architectural firms. A key part of LPA’s strategy has been sustainable design, a concept the firm has followed for 40 years – long before going “green” became a buzz word. In 2013 and 2014, $ 47.5 million of the company’s revenue was attributed to sustainable design projects.

But what does sustainable design really mean?

The concept challenges architects to build spaces that significantly lower energy use while reducing the water usage through the addition of gray-water systems and low-irrigation landscaping.

The company’s legacy has had an impact on other architects, including Brion Jeanette at Brion Jeannette Architecture in Newport Beach, which focuses on custom homes.

“What they’ve done is some very smart energy conserving, sustainable architecture which plays into what everybody is much more conscious of these days,” Jeanette said. “We all need to look at energy and water conservation, and they are doing a really good job at that.”

LPA, which boasts more than 50 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified projects, now divides its work between urban, K-12 and higher education designs and a smattering of custom homes.

The Register spoke with President Dan Heinfeld about the company’s history and the latest challenge in green design: the drought. Heinfeld joined the company in 1979 and became its president in 1986. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What was the company like when it first started?

A. It started as a one- to three-man company in Orange. At the beginning it did mostly developer work, industrial buildings, master planning, that type of thing. The big break the company got was in 1975, its first corporate headquarters project for ADP in La Palma. And that set a whole new direction for the company.

Q. How has the company changed in 50 years?

A. The biggest change is the diversity of markets and clients that we work for now. We do K-12 work, higher education, civic, corporate headquarters, developer work.

The other is this idea that we wanted to create a different kind of design firm. We have all of the disciplines you need to produce a project in-house. Traditionally an architect hires consultants to do his work. We realized about 10 years ago that wasn’t the best way to go about it. We wanted people to be able to collaborate, and we felt that if we could have these partners in-office, we could have these collaborative talks on a day-by-day basis. It will be much more integrated and the architects and engineers can make each other better.

Q. How has having more people in-house changed the firm?

A. It’s helped us be a better, sustainable architecture firm, and it’s also fundamentally changed the way we practice. We can explore things we wouldn’t have been able to in a traditional practice. You’re thinking about structure, engineering, mechanical structure and lighting from the first stages. Last year, our buildings averaged 25 percent better energy use than other buildings. They also averaged 35 percent less water use. That’s all because of the collaboration we have on a day-to-day basis.

Q. Why focus on sustainable design?

A. We have the saying that design matters. Sustainable design principles and good design is a great partnership; those things go hand in hand. If you do a project that really understands where the sun is, where it can be sustainable, we think it can be timeless because you are solving a problem, not chasing fashion.

Our goal is to do a sustainable design for our clients, because we’ve proven that it doesn’t cost more. We say all the time to our clients that we will create a building that uses less water, less energy and it won’t cost you more, so there’s no down side of doing this. It’s also the right thing to do, to lessen our footprint on the environment.

Q. How has the drought affected you?

A. It’s not a big change for us because we’ve been using smart irrigation systems for a really long time. There’s a lot more awareness of it on everyone’s part. We need to think about the fact that California does not get a lot of rainfall, and I think there’s going to be a lot more focus on conservation, water harvesting and things like that. We recently did a renovation at Park Place. We took out 3 acres of lawn, and that saved the client tons of gallons of water. That was a big project with big results.

Q. Have there been major style shifts?

A. Our focus is not chasing the fashion of the day, it’s really about being sustainable and really understanding its natural setting and how that will lend itself to what the building will be. We think by doing that we have a much better chance of creating buildings that are timeless

Q. Have there been any milestone moments for the company?

A. We recently bought a company in San Antonio, Texas, and we think that will be a great marketplace for us. Healthcare studio design is another new market for us.

Q. Any predictions for the future?

A. We need to be better at conservation as a start and see where that leads us. Everyone wants the latest gimmick or piece of tech to solve the problem. But that really starts with good, old-fashioned conservation. You can do more with less and that’s something that we need to build off of.

Q. How has the staff changed?

A. The staff that we have now and the people who are joining the firm are very talented. I’m excited about them. We refer to ourselves as a design firm, not an architecture firm because of the people that we have. The people we have now are some of the most talented people we’ve ever had work for us.

Contact the writer: hmadans@ocregister.com or Twitter: @HannahMadans

The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News