Matthew Porreca on the Future of Universities, New Ideas in Mixed-Use and the Quest for NetZero

In many ways, Matthew Porreca was a perfect fit for his new role as Design Director in LPA’s San Diego studio. He was already a well-known advocate for integrated design when he joined LPA in early 2020, with more than 25 years of experience focused designing high performance buildings. His portfolio of work includes a variety of milestone projects, including the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science WIN-GEM Research Building in Los Angeles, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City and the renovation of the University of California, Berkeley’s Moffitt Library.

In an interview, Matthew discusses many of challenges and opportunities facing designers in the years ahead.

Where is the innovation coming on higher ed campuses?

Every university has different aspirations on what they’re trying to achieve. For UC Berkeley, I’ve been working on their renovation of the Moffitt Library, the undergraduate library at the center heart of the campus. This building is a key component of the campus and working on the renovation is about understanding the chancellor’s vision for elevating the undergraduate education experience. The undergrads didn’t really have as much emphasis on campus as grad students, as far as facilities. I believe there’s a very strong push for really transforming that dynamic on many campuses and elevating that whole student experience.

You’ve worked on several libraries.

Libraries are interesting because often they’re this hub within the campus, serving all student majors and they’re evolving from physical components of books to more about how you access information, create information and develop resources. They still serve in a very similar way, but the way they’re constructed is changing, as well as how they link students to other students or peers or faculty or researchers and information.

Recruitment is always a key goal, right?

Yes, and that includes recruiting faculty, grad students and researchers. I previously worked on the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. That one was focused on recruitment of talent and attracting the best and brightest researchers. It is a top 20 engineering program. How do you continue to elevate that program and compete against their peers? The facilities make a huge difference. And you have highly technical spaces where they do specialized research and have state of the art facilities. It is really about attracting researchers, and then those researchers attract grants and research dollars into those institutions.

For CSU San Marcos, building performance is a priority. I’ve been working on two different new building studies. One is an integrated sciences building and the other one is a wellness and recreation building. They are very different kinds of program use and energy intensities, but both of them embrace high performance design in very different ways. It’s important to align any project with the big campus vision. It’s scale jumping. How do you contribute to bigger goals?

How has the idea of high performance changed in recent years?

For net zero, I think there’s been a big change over the last, say, five years. Previously it was a target for more specialized projects, or a special aspiration of on an individual client. Now you’re starting to see a much broader acceptance of net zero as a goal across a much broader spectrum of project typologies. It’s much more commonplace now in higher education and commercial work. Before maybe it was more about smaller sectors like nonprofits or organizations that had very specific missions driving those value propositions.

Is net zero a realistic goal for mainstream projects?

Yes, I think so. LPA proved it by meeting the AIA 2030 Commitment across such a large portfolio. Getting above a 70 percent reduction for the 2030 challenge shows we can make it. Getting to that next 30 percent is really about adding additional innovations, strengthening some passive design opportunities and elevating our designs. And then adding in renewables.

How do you execute that? What are the next steps in getting these designs to get to that next level?

I would say really understanding what is really driving that energy consumption and really innovating around those specific needs. For instance, the UCLA project is a wet lab facility with high energy use. You have a lot of fans that are changing air and it has a lot to do with safety and meeting the specific research requirements within those spaces. But there are more advanced systems that exist out there that take into account air sampling monitoring. So we’re not just saying the space has to change 10 times every hour. It’s actually monitoring what particles are in the air and being smarter. It’s not a one size fits all approach.

Net-zero is also becoming a recruitment tool.

Makers Quarter
, a mixed-use community designed around attracting artists and creatives, is a really interesting example. It takes net zero in a very different direction. From the client side, this was the first speculative office building in downtown in more than 10 years. This was really about aligning the project with the values of the tenants that they’re looking for. The client wanted to attract creatives and tech companies, looking at more of a millennial base aligned to sustainability and health and wellness. Net zero was a platform for attracting the type of tenants that they wanted. It was really looking at it from a marketplace perspective and as a differentiator in a vast commercial office market and being able to stand out as the first LEED platinum office in downtown.

How would you describe your philosophy toward mixed use work?

Mixed use is such a huge opportunity. There’s a huge need. I also think it has to be done responsibly. There needs to be an understanding of how these projects contribute to the community.

I’ve worked on a blend of market-rate projects. One is Park Boulevard which is up in Hillcrest and adjacent to downtown San Diego. That project is an in-fill project right next to rapid transit stop. It’s a really active, urban neighborhood and it’s was important to understand how the project contributes to that culture. We took a very different design approach. We’re designed a really active, porous façade to create a lot of visual interest and views out of the building and connections to the surrounding community.

Do you see specific opportunities in certain types of housing as the market goes forward?

I think we’re going to continue to see a mix of affordable housing, supportive housing and market rate. It has to all coexist within each other. And I think you will see a continual blending of these different individual segments within housing, in general, just because there is a tremendous need on all of those fronts. Supportive housing is another component which I think we will see more and more as we address homeless issues within our communities. How do you really promote positive change within that dynamic? These things have a tremendous amount of opportunity in transforming people and are going to be a big part of how we strengthen our communities.

And ideas that are being overlooked at the moment?

We’re starting to see a lot of different models emerging in creative developments and I think everybody’s trying to figure it out, with the cost of construction accelerating at such a rapid rate. There’s many different things that people are looking at. Modular is a big piece. Being able to fabricate elements in a factory reduces waste of materials and you’re designing around standardized components, so you’re bringing in a lot of jobs to local communities in a controlled environment. I would say a higher percentage of projects are going more modular because of the advantages of efficiency and speed to market. If we can trim the construction timeline it can have tremendous economic value to the developers, who are always looking for ways to mitigate the escalating costs of labor and materials. We just kicked off a 75-unit supportive housing development in Los Angeles with CRATE Modular and Shangri-LA which has aspirational goals for transforming the entire delivery model for developing affordable housing.