Miller Hull

East County Office & Archives

Santee, CA
The first of its kind, the East County Office & Archives sets a new standard for archival facilities, showing that net-zero preservation is possible and powerful
Client County of San Diego
Certifications LEED Gold / ILFI Zero Energy Certified
Size 25,000 SF
Completion 2019


An archive building is a societal time capsule.  A place where a community’s most important documents are stored and protected. Here, life’s punctuated moments are chronicled: birth, death, property purchases, weddings, tax collections…

The average archive facility has an exceptionally large energy footprint. It needs one to properly preserve such delicacy. But when the County of San Diego launched an unprecedented plan to cut its energy footprint in half by 2030, all new facilities would need to be designed to zero net energy (ZNE).  As the first ZNE archive facility in the U.S.,the East County Office & Archives has become a union of the past and present — a safe for the community’s records, and a light-filled, welcoming office for those working as gatekeepers and recorders.  Not only was energy and efficiency prioritized, but also the wellness of civil servants daily supporting their community.

At the main building entrance, visitors are greeted by an expansive public corridor, filled with natural light, high ceilings and an expressive roof structure that soars to capture daylight and supports a PV array overhead.  Under this roof, a “public street,” was conceptualized, serving as a large foyer and central welcome hall for the building, uniting all of the center’s departments while providing an approachable and friendly introduction to visitors. Here, public service counters are directly accessed, providing easy wayfinding and circulation for guests while maintaining secure entry points for departmental staff offices. Self Service Kiosks and a Welcome / Help station are centrally located in the middle of the ‘street’ to guide, greet, and orient people when they first enter.

At the far end of the ‘street,’ the public space turns to the north and transitions into a community gallery. Movable partitions within the public gallery allow for a rotating exhibit of community art or display of archival material. This gallery also serves as a waiting area for weddings taking place in the adjacent Civil Ceremonies room or in the outdoor Ceremony Garden.

Totaling over 6,000 square feet, the archive storage area requires highly protected space that accommodates high levels of temperature and humidity control, along with a focus on security in the event of fire, water, or theft. Conceptualized as a vault, the storage area was constructed with high mass tilt-up concrete and oriented strategically on site to avoid direct sunlight from the south and west, passively moderating the impact of intense daylight and temperature swings in the East County of San Diego. These panels didn’t only support the project’s budget and schedule, but also became a signature architectural element for the facility.  Rich in texture and sculpted at the windows to scoop light into the reading room, the tilt-up panels artfully play with light and shadow in the intense sun.

Other key features include a PV shading structure in the parking lot that incentivizes fuel-efficient vehicles with priority parking proximate to the main building entry.  Two on-site bioswales are also provided for stormwater management while actively supporting robust planting as a backdrop to the wedding venue.  A walking trail was also developed around the landscaped site forming both a lunchtime loop in addition to a connection to a local Riverwalk trail network north of the property.

As a true community resource, the East County Office and Archives offers a front door to the county government, while providing an oasis of beauty and convenience for both visitors and building staff.

Project Team

Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
Contractor: C.W. Driver
Civil Engineer: Latitude 33 Planning & Engineering
Structural Engineer: Coffman Engineers
Mechanical Engineer: Interface Engineering
Electrical Engineer: Elen Consulting
Landscape: Schmidt Design Group