Author Archives: Sean Meehan

About Sean Meehan

Principal at the ADMG Companies an architecture and construction firm in Orange County, CA. Nature Boy, gator Fan, Science Nerd, Runner.

Making Sense of Sustainable Building

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

The concept of sustainability in architecture is an ancient idea.  Roman architect Vitruvius wrote the Ten Books on Architecture, the earliest reference book on building science.  Over 2000 years old, his writings cover a variety of topics but include many concepts encompassed by sustainability today.  In fact, prior to building technologies such as air conditioning and electric lighting, most buildings throughout history would generally be considered sustainable by modern standards.

But what exactly is a sustainable building?  In contemporary terms, sustainability (or green building) encompasses a wide range of concepts, all with the main objective of reducing a structure’s impact on the environment.  Typical strategies include locating the building appropriately on the site, reducing water use and energy consumption, and utilizing safe, local and easily renewed construction materials.

In recent years, sustainability has evolved to include voluntary measures like product certifications and building rating systems, as well as mandatory requirements that are now found in both state and local building codes.  Whether voluntary or mandatory, most sustainability measures carry an increased upfront cost but are offset by substantial long-term savings on energy costs and other financial incentives.  Navigating that cost vs. benefit analysis on a typical building project can be a confusing and time-consuming endeavor.

The good news is that sustainability is a grassroots movement at heart.  It starts with simple things like recycling waste, limiting our use of water both indoors and out, and unplugging small appliances and electronics when not in use.  The even better news is that these easy sustainability measures save money as well!

If you are considering a building project and want to get the biggest return on your sustainability dollar, hire an experienced professional.  They can guide you through the decision-making process when comparing various certifications, rating systems and incentives, while identifying what measures will be most effective and appropriate for your project.  Ultimately, efficiency and economy are the goals of sustainability, and saving money while saving the environment is something we can all feel good about.

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Filed under SUSTAINABLE DESIGN, Uncategorized

Savings by Design – Incentivized Green Building

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

Savings by Design

The concept of sustainability in architecture has been around for quite a long time. Frank Lloyd Wright’s notion of ‘organic architecture’ advocated the use of local materials, providing adequate ventilation, and breaking down the interior-exterior barrier by maximizing daylighting and views. Even the US Green Building Council, and its LEED green building rating system, has been around for well over a decade. Sustainability remains a hot topic in the industry, and in California sustainability measures have even been mandated by the Code with the recent adoption of the California Green Building Code.

Another sustainability program unique to California is the Savings by Design program. This is a statewide energy efficiency program, tailored to non-residential projects, that is funded by the Public Purpose Program surcharges to gas and electric bills. The nice thing about Savings by Design is that it is an incentive program – both Owners and Design Teams may receive monetary incentives (yes…in the form of a check!) for their participation in the program, based on the type of energy efficiency approach employed, as well as the amount of energy savings that are realized.

Much like the Energy Performance credits in LEED, Savings by Design has two main approaches – either a whole-building energy model, or a systems/prescriptive approach. The incentives available with the whole-building approach are greater, but so too will be the design costs to the owner, and likely also the construction costs. The whole building approach needs to be implemented in the very earliest stages of design to be feasible, and makes sense for larger, more complicated projects. The systems approach is appropriate for smaller buildings, and may be incorporated later in the project, where the specification of higher efficiency building systems and envelope assemblies may satisfy the program’s requirements.

The Savings by Design program employs full time energy efficiency specialists to assist Owners and Design Teams throughout the process. For more information on the Savings by Design program, check out their website. Here you will find FAQs, program brochures and applications, as well as links, resources, and past award-winning projects that have utilized the program.

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The Importance of Project Closeout

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

As a typical construction project nears completion, the project team is usually inundated with many last minute issues that threaten to derail the completion of the project.  Often, the team has to commit so many resources towards meeting the deadline, that the administrative elements of project closeout may be neglected.  I will review the basics of project closeout, and their importance to the project in terms of mitigating risk and ensuring smooth operation of the facility.

  • Substantial Completion – The term ‘Substantial Completion’ generally implies that a project is sufficiently complete that an Owner can occupy or utilize the work for its intended use.  However, substantial completion is typically a specifically defined contract term that requires numerous conditions be met.  A typical AIA contract stipulates that the Architect will prepare a Certificate of Substantial Completion (AIA G704) that:
    • Establishes the date of Substantial Completion
    • Establishes the responsibilities of the Owner and GC for security, maintenance, utilities, damage to the work and insurance.
    • Fix the time that the GC has to finish all remaining items on a punch list accompanying the certificate.
    • Establishes the commencement of Warranties.
    • Must be accepted by the Owner and GC in writing, and upon acceptance, the Owner is to pay retainage applying to such work (adjusting for work that is incomplete).
  • Final Completion – Again, more so than meaning that the obligations of the contract have been fully performed, there are specific responsibilities established for this critical step in most construction contracts (always refer to your construction contract for specifics).  A typical AIA A201 requires:
    •  The GC to request final inspection in writing
    •  The GC to prepare final Application for Payment
    •  Architect to make inspection and issue final Certificate of Payment
    •  Neither final payment nor retained percentage shall become due until GC         submits:
      • Affidavit that payrolls and other indebtedness have been paid.
      • A certificate evidencing that insurance is in effect.
      • A written statement that the GC knows of no reason that the insurance will not be renewable.
      • Consent of surety.
      • Releases of waivers and liens.
  • Notice of Completion– While not a typical element of a construction contract, a Notice of Completion is an important tool for the Owner to mitigate risk.  In California, a Notice of Completion:
    •  Is to be recorded in the office of the county recorder within 10 days of final         completion.
    • Limits timeframe for a Mechanic’s Lien to be filed to 60 days for prime contractors and 30 days for subcontractors.

We should all endeavor to adhere to closeout procedures carefully to ensure that conditions of the contract are met.  The AIA has a series of free best practices articles on their website.  Their article on the topic has additional suggestions and anecdotes regarding this very important step in the project life cycle:  AIA – Planning for Effective Project Closeout


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Things are Heating Up

Sean Meehan, Architect, LEED AP, ADMG

Yes, the June gloom is officially gone as Southern California enters our true summer of extensive sunshine and hot temperatures.  Of course (especially here at the beach), it’s nothing like the recent heat wave which has gripped most of the south and central US.

But it’s not the temperatures I’m referring to in the title of this article.  I’m talking about fire season.  After the recent 1 million+ acres of wildfire in Arizona, including the biggest single wildfire in state history, communities everywhere need to be aware of proper home fire safety.  While most of the population in California doesn’t fall into a Very High Fire Area Severity Zone or a Wildland/Urban Interface Area and the the Code-required construction requirements that go with them, there are basic measures that we can all take on our property to protect it in the case of fire.

The basics of exterior home fire protection are simple:

1.  Defensible Space – ‘Defensible Space’ is defined by CAL FIRE as ‘the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs or any wildland area that surround it’.  This means 30’ of clear area immediately surrounding the home, and in rural areas another 70’ of ‘reduced fuel’ area to give the house 100’ of defensible space.

2.  ‘Harden’ your home – Fires spread to and between structures primarily by burning embers carried by the wind.  ‘Hardening’ your home means using fire-resistant/non-combustible materials for the exterior finishes.  This will resist the ignition of your home in the event of a fire in the area.  The roof and its related elements are the most vulnerable surfaces and non-combustible materials such as clay tile, metal panels or fiberglass shingles are preferred over wood or conventional paper-backed asphalt shingles.

There are many other guidelines, tips and checklists available to help increase wildland fire safety.  Here is a nice, easy to navigate website with home wildfire safety measures from CAL FIRE.


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Award-winning Architecture

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

Writing these articles every month isn’t easy.  Between the various responsibilities of running a design firm, running a personal life, running through California’s endless regulations (in preparation for the California Supplemental Exam) and just plain running (literally…I’m planning on running another marathon in the fall), time is sometimes at a premium.  Whew.

So this month, I’m combining activities to save on time.  I like to surf the web and check out notable architecture projects around the country and beyond.  ADMG will be submitting one of our restaurant projects for design awards in the near future, but while we eagerly await completion…check out a few award-winning projects that others have done:

Combs Point Residence – A serene lake house in upstate New York

U.S. Land Port of Entry – U.S. Customs checkpoint on the Canadian border

John E. Jaqua Center for Student Athletes – Proof  that college sports is a big business


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People that Live in Glass Houses…

Glass technologies

Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

I recently had to move an old 37” cathode-ray tube television set down a couple flights of stairs, and my back is still recovering.  Fortunately, glazing and glass display technologies have made incredible advancements in recent years, and will likely feature heavily (but weigh less) in the built environment of the future.

I keep encountering electrochromic glazing in hotels, allowing users to control the privacy or shading function of their glazing with the flip of a switch.  While ‘smart window’ technology has been around for some time, the low quality and high price of the technology has generally precluded its widespread use.  But as the technology has matured and energy costs have risen, the incentive to make glazing do more for the building is finally becoming persuasive.

Even more innovative ideas appear to be on the horizon.  Smart glazing will likely be advanced so that it won’t just block the sun, but will incorporate solar panels to harness electricity and offset energy costs.  Another potential application is the addition of OLED lighting into glazing, allowing it to serve as a window during the day, and a light fixture at night.  Add in possible uses in the transportation sector – automotive, public transportation and aircraft glazing, and the opportunities appear to be endless.

The one application where we have all experienced recent advancements in glass technology is the touchscreen.  This application in our computing and smartphone devices has revolutionized the efficiency and simplicity of these devices, and touchscreen technologies may have a myriad of uses in the future.  Check out this recent, rather corny video from Corning (pun intended), showing some of the possibilities for the future:

A Day Made of Glass


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The Future of Retail






Sean Meehan, LEED AP, ADMG

An open letter to Retail projects:

Dear Retail,

We miss you.  We cherish the fond memories of partying with you just a few years ago.  You used to overwhelm us with acres of square footage, generous fees and an endless supply of tenants…and now, we would consider ourselves lucky to find a hot dog cart or a lemonade stand remodel.

Please send us a sign.  Were you kidnapped by an Amazon warrior?  Were you Netflix’d out of the picture?  Were you auctioned off into slavery on Ebay? Retail, we will not give up the search.  We are holding out hope for your safe return.



Okay, let’s be serious.  There is a glimmer of hope for retail, especially here in Southern California.  Marcus and Millichap recently released a promising 2011 retail report for San Diego, LA and Orange County.  While all of these locales have traditionally been at the top of this list due to the development restrictions inherent in California, even a slight projected strengthening is promising news.

And while some brick and mortar retailers like Blockbuster and Borders have fallen on hard times due to virtual competitors, others are poised to increase their market share.  The same report forecasts significant future development for drug stores and ‘extreme value’ retailers like Dollar General and Family Dollar.

ADMG boasts an extremely strong and diverse portfolio of retail projects, and we will be working hard to ensure we are in attendance at Retail’s big welcome back party.  Just as value is driving the decisions of the average consumer in a down economy, so too will it drive those of our clients.  Our service-oriented approach benefits both small-box and big-box retailers alike.


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Notable Architecture of Orange County

Lovell House

Sean Meehan, LEED AP

While Los Angeles boasts a bevy of architectural landmarks, Orange County’s prominent buildings are far fewer in number.  LA features the works of prominent masters of the past and present such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Eames, Richard Meier and Frank Gehry, but the suburbia of Orange County has given rise to few memorable buildings.  In a sea of generic Italianate quasi-villas, I will lead you on a brief virtual tour of a few of the OC’s notable exceptions.

Lovell Beach House, Rudolph Schindler, Newport Beach

On the National Register of Historic Places and dating all the way back to 1926, the Lovell Beach House was designed by Rudolph M. Schindler for Dr. Philip Lovell, a health and fitness advocate.  Schindler came to the US from Austria, and ended up in Chicago where he became an embattled employee of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Eventually he came to Los Angeles to work on some of Wright’s local projects, and the Lovell Beach House was one of his first commissions on his own, and historically considered one of his most important.  This thing is still standing, though looking a bit beat up, as it celebrates its 85th birthday.

This poorly-translated page has some excellent historical photos and drawings:  WikiArquitectura

Segerstrom Concert Hall, Cesar Pelli, Costa Mesa

Designed by Cesar Pelli to accompany his nearby stainless steel Plaza Tower office building, the Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is Orange County’s answer to the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry in LA.  I was fortunate enough to live and work in the area as this project was under construction, and the glass façade is truly a spectacle, especially at night.  30,000 sf of curved, laminated glass encloses the main lobby and circulation areas.  The project went $40 million dollars over budget and endured a lengthy legal battle as a result.  Troubles aside, this is a good looking building.  If you have a chance to visit, be sure to check out the enormous COR-TEN steel sculpture by Richard Serra in the nearby plaza.

A few high-res photos of the Concert Hall may be found here:  South Coast Metro Galleries

Portabello Estate, Brion Jeannette, Corona del Mar

This project garnered national press a few years ago as one of the most expensive homes in the U.S.  While it was probably something of a publicity stunt to list this house for $75 million dollars, it is a stunning yet corny (see the underground mall) example of Orange County excess.  It recently sold for $34.1 million – a real bargain.

There is a great gallery of pictures for the ‘Portabello Estate’ here: Portabello Estate


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Forecast 2011

Sean Meehan, LEED AP

Another year has passed, and many in the construction industry are still waiting for that elusive ‘recovery’ to kick in.  Statistically speaking, 2010 was disappointing in the overall sense, but there were also some highlights that may foreshadow a better outlook for 2011.  Let’s take a look at the data and forecasts that are out there for present activity, as well as for the future.

The AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) is an economic indicator that tracks architecture billings and new project inquiries on a month-to-month basis.  A cross-section of A/E firms is polled to gather billing data, and this data is then adjusted for historical seasonal variation using the Census Bureau X-12 software.  Currently, the November ABI shows an overall national strengthening in billings, but the West region continues to lag behind other parts of the country, and commercial/industrial construction has dipped slightly from the previous three months, which had reflected modest growth.  Read more about the current ABI here:  November Architectural Billings Index

McGraw-Hill Construction, the construction industry division of the publishing giant, issues a construction index that reflects new construction valuations.  Their November report reflects an overall decline, but with some strengthening in residential construction.  The data in this report is not encouraging, but there is typically a lag that occurs between architectural billings and construction activity and in their discussion of this month’s index, they describe an up-and-down pattern for construction at the moment.  See more details on the current construction index here:   November Construction Index

McGraw-Hill also releases an annual forecast for the construction industry, and while 2011 is predicted to reflect a slow recovery, their 2010 forecast was quite a bit off, and these kinds of far-reaching predictions should be taken with a grain of salt.  The Wall Street Journal analyzes the predictions of the 2011 Construction Forecast here:  McGraw-Hill 2011 Construction Outlook

Statistics and predictions are one thing, but at ADMG we have seen and heard of first hand growth which looks promising.  We know some architects that are doing very well with design work, and we hear that some local firms are re-hiring employees laid off earlier in the recession.  Overall activity still seems low in California (with the exception of healthcare and K-12), but there is a sense that things have bottomed out and that we may experience a slow but steady growth in the future.    We are optimistic, we are setting our goals appropriately, and we will be wishing all of our friends and associates a fantastic 2011!


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Holiday Design and Construction How-Tos

During the holiday season, while the real world processes of design and construction frequently slow to a crawl, you can still get your architecture fix by scaling down operations and moving to alternate building materials.  Check out the following links for some useful DIY tips to build holiday cheer away from the office.

Are you sustainability-minded?  Looking to reduce/reuse/recycle some of your old Kenny G CD’s?  No worries, make a holiday wreath out of them:

Perhaps you have a sweet tooth and have always wanted to design your own home.  Simply construct the holiday classic – how to build a gingerbread house:

Or maybe you are the extreme outdoors type…build yourself a survival shelter out of nothing but frozen precipitation.  How to make an igloo (there is snow up on Mount Baldy):

ADMG would like to extend our wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season!


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