Irvine, CA: GAA Architects is passionate about their projects. But the Irvine-based firm, established in 1978 as Gilbert Aja Associates, works for clients with an eye on the bottom line, so that passion is tempered with practicality.

Take for example the Mission Ridge Office Complex commissioned by Legacy Partners, two 4-story buildings totaling 232,000 square feet, (116,000 each). The sister buildings along the 220,000 foot I-5 frontage that will be seen by 250,000 commuters each day extend an elegant, timeless design suggestive of European roots and yet are loyal to GAA's commitment to cost containment, design quality and value engineering.

The Class 'A', state-of-the-art design was produced under the leadership of President Gilbert Aja, AIA, and Project Managers Roger Deitos, AIA, and Lon Stephenson. "Legacy is a very powerful organization and they were looking for the very best project and the brightest and finest people to hire - the best contractors, consultants and experts," said Aja. "When we're talking about Legacy, we're talking about people who can afford to hire anyone they want to continue to have some of the most successful projects in California."

Aja continues: "Legacy selected us. Why? Because they felt we were the most qualified, most enthusiastic and most motivated to be able to do the production drawings and work within their budget. After reviewing several of the top architectural firms in the area, they recognized that we are a company that goes beyond just being architects. We are out-of-the box thinkers. We bring to the team satisfaction of the functional requirements, the marketing requirements and economic limitations. GAA Architects is able to analyze these factors in a very organized fashion and put together a process as planners to examine opportunities, constraints and combinations of limitations."

Not only will the project be dazzling to look at with its shimmering green glass and ochre limestone composite exterior but it is cost-effective in every way. "We designed Mission Ridge from a sight point of view," said Deitos. "We never paid premium for what you would not see - it's a matter of skill to add and subtract design elements."

Case in point: In the open two story high lobbies, GAA brings limestone up to only 12 or 15 feet and then uses a less expensive material.

"The overall effect is total luxury but we have to be careful where we put the 'cherries' so that they really show up," said Aja. "A bowl of cherries isn't nearly as elegant as a vanilla float with one cherry on top."

For years, observers thought the present Mission Ridge was just a scruffy, problematic site against the freeway. There were power lines to contend with and a hilly side that dropped down to a water-filled canyon. GAA conquered the grading problem with a series of carefully designed landscaped slopes and retaining walls. Another challenge was the need for a strong building presence facing the freeway. The result was a design plan that utilized "visual entry" on the backside of the building that faced the freeway in addition to the front entrance along the interior street.

The mid-rise office building features 29,000 square foot floor plates with bay depths that will accommodate larger users and are divisible down to 1,000 square feet.

The complex will attract either multiple users, full building users, or a single campus user. The complex includes a four-level parking structure as well as convenient ground level parking that surrounds the buildings. As in all their projects, GAA gives special attention to walkways, courtyards and landscaping. Palm trees placed on a linear path will gracefully accent the exterior.

Said Deitos: "We are achieving buildings that are very elegant with nuances of European tradition. This dates back to when proportions were very important and detailing was paramount." Limestone pilasters on faces of the buildings add visual interest and form a unique three-dimensional depth to the facades.

Over the past two-plus decades, GAA Architects has successfully master planned thousands of acres and millions of square feet of corporate office and industrial campuses. GAA has extensive corporate experience with such recognizable clients as Minolta, Unisys, ViewSonic, Baxter Healthcare, Brothers International, Nestle' Foods, Emulex, Parker Hannifin, and others.

Besides working closely with Legacy Partners, GAA maintains long-term professional relationships with such prominent developers as Lennar Partners, Trammel Crow Company, Koll Development Company, Catellus Development Corporation, Lowe Enterprises Commercial Group, and The Muller Company.

Gilbert Aja is a graduate of the University of Southern California's School of Architecture. He received a Masters in Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. He is licensed to practice architecture in all the western states and is a member of the American Institute of Architects, the Society of American Architects, The National Council of Architectural Registered Boards and The National Association of Industrial and Office Parks.

Roger Deitos is a registered architect and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from California Polytechnic State University. Lon Stephenson is GAA's Principal/Director of Production. He, too, is a registered architect with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from California Polytechnic State University.

"We at GAA Architects strive to create a product that will enhance the lives of people and touch their emotions," said Gilbert Aja. "People who occupy our buildings spend more time in these complexes than they do in their own homes. This is a tremendous responsibility to make that time pleasant and conducive to work. Legacy is spending millions to build a marvelous office campus and we needed to make a major commitment to the people that will use this complex."