A Living Laboratory for Workplace Design

LPA’s new Irvine headquarters showcases the firm’s integrated, research-driven design process.

For its new headquarters in Irvine, California, LPA acted as its own client, focusing the firm’s design process on its own office and staff.

“We were practicing what we preach,” says LPA CEO Wendy Rogers. “We saw the office as a demonstration space for our values and approach to office design.”

For weeks LPA designers and LPAred, the firm’s in-house research department, reached out to the staff through surveys and envisioning sessions, trying to determine what they wanted from their new office. Writable boards were posted in common areas, where people could write their thoughts and impressions of early concepts.

“People didn’t hold back,” says LPA Design Director Rick D’Amato.

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Elements of those sessions can be found in almost every aspect of the three-story 55,450-square-foot office, which is designed as a “living laboratory” for workplace environments and sustainability.

The office is designed to LEED-CI v4 Platinum certification standards and meets the 70 percent fossil fuel energy reduction benchmark of the AIA 2030 Commitment, while supporting collaboration, creativity and employee comfort.

The design transforms a typical shell office space into a sustainable and interactive workplace. Developed under the parameters of a traditional construction budget, with a compressed schedule, the designers looked for efficient and low-cost ways to reconfigure the space. The process focused on an open layout and the broader, fundamental goal of facilitating the company’s integrated work process.

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The result is a studio environment—polished concrete floors, exposed structure, electrical cable trays and visible HVAC ducts —which purposely contrasts with more finished areas. A two-story, 30- by 60-foot entry, with a reclaimed-wood and steel stadium staircase, connects the first and second floor and serves as an arena for the firm’s quarterly all-hands meetings.

A variety of collaboration zones, respite areas and conference rooms are spread throughout the spaces, encouraging connections and random encounters. There are no private offices. Desk assignments in the open studio are flexible, eliminating office structural hierarchy, while facilitating knowledge sharing. Everyone can find their own nook or conference space.

“The design develops the feeling of choice,” D’Amato says. “It creates an atmosphere where you have this freedom to work however you want and it doesn’t have to be all within your workstation.”

Standardized, sit-stand desks are arranged in rows perpendicular from the floor-to-ceiling windows, with each row no longer than three desks, which increases circulation and ensures every employee benefits from natural light. Conference rooms are aligned in the interior, giving priority to placing respite areas and work spaces closer to the windows. “The connection to the exterior environment from the work areas is huge,” D’Amato says. “I really love the different light qualities in the spaces.”

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Input from the research process resulted in several significant aspects of the design. The different disciplines were rearranged to create more interactions; almost every space is ringed with pin-up walls, where designers can display ideas and drawings for discussions; and the variety of conference spaces all reflect comments from staff. The kitchen was also moved to a partially-enclosed side room after staff resisted the idea of an open kitchen near the center of the office.

“That was enlightening,” D’Amato says. “And now I’m taking that knowledge to clients.”

Elements throughout the design address staff well-being and health issues, while increasing the efficiency and sustainability. Strategically-placed ceiling panels and carpet create controlled acoustic environments for workstations and conference rooms. Workstations are optimized to create more personal control of lighting and temperature. Original art work by local artists David Gilmore and Hagop Belian celebrate the creative process and bring color and light to the spaces.

“It is definitely a creative space,” D’Amato says. “It’s a space that breaks outside the mold, taking full advantage of the gifts of the building and the gifts of the site.”

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To reach sustainability goals, the design required an attention to detail; an interior tenant improvement project, since there was no ability to change HVAC systems or improve the building’s skin. Efficiencies were found through lighting controls and fixtures; strategically-placed, high-volume, low-velocity fans; and water fixtures that operate 40 percent better than the LEED baseline. A rooftop 70-kilowatt photovoltaic system is expected to offset 20 percent of the office’s energy use.

Signage throughout the space highlights different elements of the design, reminding both employees and visitors of the larger goals. Each component demonstrates the company’s ethos and promotes the synergistic relationship between sustainability and design excellence.

“These are all the things that we talk about with our clients,” says LPA President Dan Heinfeld. “The spaces are flexible, adaptable and demonstrate how an integrated approach can create spaces for people to work better, smarter and healthier.”

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A variety of strategies helped turn the typical office shell into an energy efficient three-story space. The integrated design approach used efficient lighting, low-velocity fans, photovoltaic cells and careful attention to natural light to reduce fossil fuel energy use by more than 70 percent.

  • Photovoltaic panels on the roof offset 30% of the predicted electrical use of the office.
  • Natural daylight and views are acessible by 80% of staff.
  • Wellness opportunities include a fitness center, nearby nature trails, on-site showers, and bicycle storage.
  • Water conservation measures include plumbing fixtures that use reclaimed water, exceeding CalGreen and LEED. Energy efficiency is aided by advanced lighting controls and appropriate LED fixtures for each space.
  • Mechanical efficiencies allow the system to perform at 30% better than California’s Title 24 standards.

This story originally appeared in Catalyst Issue 3 2019. Subscribe today to receive Catalyst, a quarterly publication that takes a deep dive into design ideas, industry leaders and initiatives.