Too often, “great design” is judged by aesthetics and fads. We use four key metrics to make the case that our integrated design process is producing better results.
In its early years, LPA followed the traditional practice model that almost all architecture firms use to provide services. When hired for a project, we would contract with consultants and engineers to provide structural, landscape, MEP and civil services.
As LPA started to grow, we became increasingly frustrated by this process. The traditional structure employed by the architecture and engineering (A&E) industry inherently creates divisions within teams. The different disciplines don’t collaborate. Far too often, they are not engaged or involved in addressing the client’s larger goals or the complex challenges of creating high-performance buildings.
Our buildings succeeded on many levels, but we knew we could do better. As energy costs soared and climate change became a real issue, we knew we wouldn’t achieve any meaningful change if we continued to practice in the same way architects have for over a century, cobbling together disparate collections of consultants to design a project. We believed there had to be a better way.
Almost 20 years ago, LPA began to completely change the practice from the typical A&E model. First, we brought in interior designers and landscape architects to help us connect the indoors and outdoors. In 2007, we brought in structural engineers, and by 2010 all the engineering disciplines were in-house.
The changes were made with a clear intent. We went from a traditional architectural firm to a fully integrated design firm with the goal of creating a more collaborative design environment around shared values and goals. Our culture focused on breaking down the hierarchy between disciplines and removing boundaries to collaboration, regardless of the makeup of the team.
This collective vision and shared process profoundly changed the firm. With the addition of each new discipline, a culture of sharing evolved. The process now involves all disciplines on a project from the very start of design. The synergies between the disciplines grew, as did engagement. Instead of waiting for a schematic design, the engineers, interior designers and landscape architects were involved from the very start of the process. The barriers of fee and scope were removed, giving the team easy access to all the disciplines, when needed. The architects, designers and engineers made each other better.
We believe we have developed a better process with better results. But the A&E industry is a marketplace where success is hard to measure. Too often, the idea of “great design” is analyzed through a prism of aesthetics and current fads, with little relation to the client’s goals. But results can be measured. After 20 years, we look at four basics metrics to help benchmark our progress and validate that our process is yielding better projects for our clients.
In the California desert, the California State University, San Bernardino Palm Desert Student Center is designed to operate at net zero energy.
Client Satisfaction The marketplace is ultimately the most important matrix to measure a firm’s success. Since we began this journey to become a fully integrated design firm, we have grown the firm’s revenue by 12% annually and increased our staff to more than 400 architects, designers, engineers and landscape architects. Most years, 90% of our business is from referrals or repeat clients. These are numbers that far exceed the industry averages and are a testimonial to the value our clients see in our integrated services.
Claims and Litigation History The construction business has grown much more litigious, particularly in the design-bid-build delivery method. According to the American Bar Association, the average construction claim has increased by 30% since 2015, with disputes typically taking 14 to 18 months to resolve. We believed that using our in-house team would improve the quality and coordination of our drawings. Our quality control reviews became more robust with the disciplines on hand for reviews. The result: LPA’s claim frequency in the last seven years was 46% less than the average for A&E firms in the U.S., according to our insurance carrier.
Design Awards Design awards, typically given by a jury of your peers, are probably the most objective recognition of the relevance of a firm’s design work. Juries composed of architects, landscape architects, interior designers, structural and civil engineers and lighting designers are selecting LPA’s work as examples of design excellence year after year. From 2013 to 2022, our integrated practice earned a remarkable 170 AIA National, State and Local Component awards, including many of the industry’s top honors. In that same time frame, our structural, civil, lighting and landscape architects won 115 awards from their peer associations. In 2023, the TIDE Academy, a public high school in Menlo Park, California, was recognized with a national AIA Architecture Award—one of only 16 projects in the country to receive the honor.
AIA 2030 Commitment The AIA 2030 Commitment sets specific performance targets with the eventual goal of eliminating carbon emissions by 2030. Unlike other standards, it measures energy use reductions for a firm’s entire portfolio of work for that year, not just one project, creating an important benchmark for a company’s performance. In 2018 and 2019, LPA was the only firm in the country with over 100 employees to meet the 2030 Commitment. From 2020 to 2022, when the benchmark was increased to 80% pEUI reduction, LPA averaged a 75.6% pEUI energy reduction across a portfolio of 18 million square feet, including commercial, education, civic, recreation and healthcare projects. In 2022, our pEUI was 78.7% on a portfolio of 7 million square feet. The national average of all U.S. firms was 50%.
Our results provide strong evidence that a collaborative, integrated design process, focused on clearly defined performance goals, can produce better results. These types of achievements only happen when there is culture intent on exploring for better answers on every project, regardless of scale or budget. The data illustrates that a large firm willing to break from tradition can play an important role in producing more efficient, healthier environments that change lives.
Dan Heinfeld served as president of LPA for 36 years, leading the development of the company into a nation-leading integrated design firm with six studios, eight practices and more than 400 architects, engineers and designers. He remains a principal of the firm and serves as an advisor to the board of directors.