The Art of Transformation

Turning an aging, tired building into a vibrant, sustainable landmark creates value, improves neighborhoods and helps the environment, recognizing ‘the greenest building is the one already built.’

In every building there is value waiting to be unlocked. As markets shift and facilities grow old, there is an opportunity to create something new, something better.

It’s not always easy. There is an art to finding the threads that will transform a building into something new and vital.

“Many firms don’t like to do renovations; they believe that a blank canvas is where creativity can shine,” says LPA President Dan Heinfeld. “We actually believe the exact opposite.” The constraints and opportunities that exist when dealing with an existing building might be one of the best ways to test a team’s creative design thinking. “A renovation challenges design teams to think differently and seek alternatives, which often leads to some very creative projects,” Heinfeld says.

The pandemic will put the spotlight on adaptive reuse, as owners contemplate what to do with underutilized spaces. Yet it should not be the driver behind an imaginative reuse, says LPA Director of Mixed-Use Matthew Winter.

Adaptive reuse is an exploration of what could be, moving beyond the limitations of the current use to create something resilient and valuable for years to come.

“This isn’t about our current situation,” Winter says. “It’s about the smart use of space and creating projects that work better.” Adaptive reuse is fundamentally about challenging codes and boundaries to reposition assets. “We’re not sitting in a comfort zone when we talk about making buildings better,” Winter says. “Adaptive reuse is not a market sector. It’s an expertise.”

In many cases, reuse is also the most sustainable solution. The oft-used phrase, “the greenest building is the one already built” is truer now than ever, as the industry looks for ways to reduce its carbon footprint. Repurposing or renovating an existing building gives the design team the opportunity to use the embodied energy that exists within the structure.

“Giving new life to an underperforming building provides the opportunity to make real improvements in energy and water use,” Heinfeld says. “Our experience has shown that energy use and water use can be dramatically improved, by 30 to 50 percent, with components that are best practices today.”

Adaptive Re Use Scorecard

A creative reuse can also dramatically increase the health and wellness component, creating exciting user experiences. The new business cycle provides an opening to make real gains in energy use, water use and the creation of robust healthy environments.

“The scale and the requirements of the renovations and repurposing have the ability to increase the sustainability of our physical environment,” Heinfeld says.

In every case, adaptive reuse is an exploration of what could be, moving beyond the limitations of the current use to create something resilient and valuable for years to come.

Palomar 2


Palomar College South Education Center

Palomar College in northern San Diego County purchased a four-story, 110,000-square-foot office building for a new satellite campus. The program was arranged vertically to take advantage of the hillside location with elevated views. Student services, a bookstore, a food court and other community amenities were located on the ground floor for easy access. Classrooms and faculty offices were organized on the middle floors, with social decks wrapping the perimeter. The top floor was reserved for the library and a teaching and learning center, which serves as a destination for students, with views of the surrounding valley.

Palomar Before Palomar After

To make the existing structure work, LPA’s integrated team of engineers efficiently addressed the additional stress loads on the floors and the higher seismic code requirements, while interior designers organized the program spaces to develop cohesive learning environments and bring the “vertical campus” to life.

One of the biggest challenges was accommodating code-required exiting areas for educational spaces, which needed to be much larger than those required for an office building. The solution: Three transparent stairwells were added to the exterior of the building, providing a dramatic, light-filled active space. These new “lanterns” frame main entries and completely change the character of a spec office building into an active higher education destination.

“This was a great example of how a strategic informed design approach can take an older, underused facility and turn it into a very special resource for its community,” says LPA Project Designer Ozzie Tapia.

2722 M Ichelson


2722 Michelson

A 155,000-square-foot warehouse space on a corner of one of the busiest intersections in Irvine, California, was reimagined into an attractive, creative office space. Built in the 1960s, the building grew over the years to be three times the original size. After exploring the idea of a mixed-use development, the new property owner was prompted by shifting market conditions to explore reinvestment opportunities.

2722 M Ichelson Before 2722 M Ichelson After

The new design exploits the high ceilings and open plan, while addressing the challenges of the site, including inefficient parking, limited natural daylight and no street presence. A 60-foot-by-125-foot section was cut out of the middle of the building, creating a courtyard that breaks up the continuous 560-foot-long building into smaller, more manageable spaces and allows for more natural light into the building. The courtyard reduces the overall square footage, solving another challenge: The client was able to meet parking requirements for a creative office space. To update the identity of the building, large sections of the existing tilt-up panels were replaced with curtain wall, which announced the building entry and the new courtyard.

The new creative office space was fully leased while the project was under construction.

In every building there is value waiting to be unlocked... an opportunity to create something new, something better.

E3 Civic


e3 Civic High

The sixth and seventh floors of San Diego’s central library were slotted for offices until San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) saw an opportunity to create a new downtown campus. LPA was originally hired to do a feasibility study and then to program and design the school.

The result looks nothing like an office space. Developed with the City of San Diego, SDUSD and the San Diego Public Library Foundation, the design for the campus ties education into the urban culture, recognizing that learning happens everywhere. The school and library are physically separate; the school has its own ground-level entrance, elevators, stairway and lobby.

E3 Civic Before E3 Civic After

The design for the learning environment centralized around three ideas: personalization, social connections and flexibility, leveraging the urban setting and opportunities for mobile learning. (“e3” stands for engage, educate and empower.) Studios, or classrooms, for 500 students are arranged in “villages” around transparent shared learning spaces. An interactive wall connecting the villages enables students to present projects and test ideas in what would otherwise be a blank, static hallway. The students can shape their own individual environments, as needed, with pull-out pockets and displays.

The design takes full advantage of the location, leveraging the space to connect with the library and the community. Public spaces are used for community events, and students enjoy full access to the library’s resources, creating shared value. The project also found ways to reduce the school’s water and energy use and earned LEED Gold certification.

Diamond Bar Library


Diamond Bar City Hall & Library

The City of Diamond Bar purchased a vacant, nondescript, two-story, 38,000-square-foot office building to house city administrative offices and a County of Los Angeles branch library. The challenge was to transform a speculative office building into the seat of local government, in a way that responded to the needs and values of the community.

City Hall took the second floor of the building, with the library on the ground floor. To separate the functions, different entrances were designed. City Hall’s entry is on the north side of the building, and the library’s entry is on the south side, taking advantage of the exterior at-grade access, which allowed for the development of an outdoor reading garden.

Diamond Bar Library Before Diamond Bar Library After

Although technically classified as a tenant improvement, the project was approached like a ground-up building. The community provided input at key stages to mold the look and feel of the library, while city staff informed the operations of City Hall. Working within the budget, the integrated team was able to address the complex structural, interior and landscape issues as a unit. “We were all speaking the same language, all on the same page,” says LPA Managing Director Denise Mendelssohn.

The city offices were designed to incorporate the public functions of the departments, while creating secure spaces for staff. The library spaces include a community room, children’s library and group study rooms. To accommodate the design, the ceilings were raised in public areas, specialty lighting was installed and local history was highlighted. The reading garden, designed by LPA’s landscape team, created a quiet outdoor space for patrons.

Broadway Lofts


1221 Broadway Lofts

An abandoned project covering two city blocks bordering the famed Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, sat desolate for years after the original developer went bankrupt. Part of the city’s up-and-coming River North District, the concrete shells of the neglected housing complex were transformed into a vibrant mixed-use development, with 258 apartments, retail space and offices.

The complex includes 17 four-story buildings arranged around courtyards. Collaborating with Lake Flato architects, LPA’s team created a new design that changes the dynamic of the complex. The interiors were demolished and floor plans were relaid to open the units to the courtyard and streets, increasing the marketability of the units and creating a stronger sense of community. Openings for doors and windows were cut out of the walls and balconies added to every apartment.

Broadway Lofts 2

All circulation occurs outdoors on single-loaded, cantilevered walkways. Double-level pedestrian bridges over the street link the two blocks of the complex; colored lighting accents the exposed-steel structures and intensifies the nighttime street energy. One building originally intended for offices was repurposed as residential units, with street-level space converted to retail and targeted office space.

The project features an industrial-design aesthetic throughout. Exterior building materials include corrugated and flat-panel metal siding, cast-in-place concrete and stucco. One of the courtyards features a 12-foot-tall metal cistern that captures rainwater for reuse onsite. Steel awnings, metal railings and galvanized downspouts complete the look.

“It was very satisfying to take a site that almost looked like Eastern Bloc housing and turn it into a series of great places,” says LPA Principal Mickey Conrad. “It’s a place where you want to be. There’s a real sense of community there.”