Sustainable Desert Design with o2 Architecture and Monumental Windows and Doors

“If I had to define our architecture, it’s modern, sustainable, durable, and timeless while being respectful of place.” 

Lance O’Donnell, AIA sits at the helm of o2 Architecture, an architectural firm focused on sustainable desert design, based in Palm Springs, California. Evocative of the surreal monochromatic Sonoran desert that surrounds them, O’Donnell’s creations meld with the sky and the earth to become a living part of the landscape.

Take, for example, this home designed by o2 and constructed by DW Johnston. Monumental Windows and Doors supplied thermally broken aluminum-framed doors and windows on this project, including:

o2 and Monumental made sense as a team from the very beginning. 

In 2007, O’Donnell was building his own home. He chose Monumental as his supplier for windows and doors, eventually completing the third Platinum LEED-certified home ever constructed. “Obviously, building here in the desert and using a local fabricator like Monumental Windows, I could work with the company owner in a very direct way. I customized all the glass and glazing in each of the sliders, windows, and doors so that it was optimizing performance. And it became a nice collaboration.”

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for homes is a globally recognized rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that assesses the environmental performance and sustainability of residential buildings. It evaluates various aspects including energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, materials used, and site sustainability. 

Homes achieving LEED certification demonstrate a commitment to reducing environmental impact, lowering utility costs, and providing healthier living spaces for occupants. The certification process involves rigorous standards and criteria, encouraging the adoption of green building practices and technologies in residential construction.

Monumental and o2 have grown their relationship successfully over the years, and the results are clear. ”Since I was living with the doors and windows, I knew their value and capabilities. I knew the product firsthand. Then, it was just natural to continue to work with Monumental.”

The Origins of o2 Architecture and Seamless Desert Design


Photo by Sheva Kafai

“I’m a lifelong desert resident, I was born in the Coachella Valley. My mother was born here. My grandmother was born here. So I’ve got deep roots in the desert.” 

Lance O’Donnell didn’t have to stray far from his origins to find his calling. Both of his grandfathers were ranchers in Coachella, so he spent much of his childhood in citrus and date groves. “I learned early on about the value of water, and that weather conditions could ruin or sustain crops. The idea that a place, the people, its history, the weather, water resources, sun, and the wind all intermixed and could create a holistic balance.”

As he learned about culture, art, and design in school (including a year abroad in Florence, Italy), O’Donnell added to his unique skill set. “I had the additional advantage of understanding a demanding desert climate, its patterns, and resources in a way that influenced my entire career.”

Creating Modern, Sustainable Architecture

Photo by David Blank

The bread and butter of o2 Architecture is single-family residential homes. They have also worked on many resort hotels, and hospitality projects thanks to their Palm Springs location. 

Sustainability is a core focus for o2 on all projects, as is continuing the enduring legacy of thoughtful modern design. O’Donnell is also continually exploring evolving technologies. “Changes in construction technology drive how we conceive and deliver projects in the smartest and most efficient way possible.” He notes that these interests include options for 3D printed, prefabricated, factory-built systems, and site-built construction.

O’Donnell says that means an in-depth understanding of culture, technology, solar motion, prevailing winds, water resources, energy generation potential, material use/conservation, healthy indoor environments . . . a whole host of things that, in and of themselves, don’t bring joy. But by holistically understanding and incorporating all of those things, makes daily living seamless, effortless, and joyful.

Harnessing the Sunshine

Photo by Lance Gerber

One of the things that makes a good desert home, notes O’Donnell, is a strong indoor-outdoor connection. And that calls for large, seamless sliding glass doors and walls. “It’s critical to get the orientation, overhangs, and building envelope right. The glass and glazing have to be oriented properly, and well-shaded or you’re creating a greenhouse in the summer.” 

The goal of o2 projects has always been to maximize indoor/outdoor living with the maximum amount of well-placed, well-shaded glazing to allow occupants to have as much indoor-outdoor flow onto pools, patios, and outdoor activity areas. In other words, “Glass and glazing tend to be the cornerstone of how we think about and express how the home lives on the land,” says O’Donnell.

The Sonoran Desert desert region typically experiences intense sunlight and high temperatures, potentially leading to significant solar heat gain. Properly selected and installed glass and glazing from Monumental can help to mitigate this heat gain by incorporating features such as low-emissivity coatings, reflective coatings, and spectrally selective glazing, which reduce the amount of infrared radiation and ultraviolet light that enters the home while still allowing abundant views and visible light transmission. 

Insulated glass units with multiple panes and gas fills, along with thermally broken frames, can enhance thermal performance by reducing heat transfer, helping to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures, and reducing the reliance on mechanical cooling systems. Desert environments can also face challenges with dust and sandstorms, so selecting durable and resistant glazing materials can help maintain the integrity of the building envelope and minimize maintenance requirements. Thoughtful selection and implementation of glass and glazing solutions are crucial for optimizing energy efficiency, comfort, and durability in homes built in desert climates.

Thermally Broken Aluminum Framing

As mentioned, another sustainability win is Monumental’s thermally broken aluminum frames on its door and window products. These frames feature a barrier between the interior and exterior parts of the frame, reducing thermal conductivity and minimizing heat transfer, enhancing energy efficiency by improving insulation. Reduced heating and cooling loads lead to lower energy consumption and decreased greenhouse gas emissions over the building’s lifecycle. 

Aluminum is also a highly durable and recyclable material. The frames can be repurposed or recycled at the end of their lifespan, contributing to resource conservation and waste reduction. Incorporating thermally broken aluminum framed windows and doors in home construction can support sustainability goals by improving energy performance for many years.

Local and Family-Owned

The primary advantage of working with Monumental, according to O’Donnell, is its location. “They manufacture locally and it’s a locally owned company, and that works really well with our sustainable ethos of sourcing as many of the things as we can from our backyard.” 

Monumental is grateful for many years of partnership with o2 Architecture and its team. 

Explore more of o2’s residential projects here. You can also follow them on Instagram.

Explore Monumental’s 2024 Product Brochure here.