The City of Santa Monica City Services is the first completed municipal building to seek full Living Building Challenge certification, and therefore the world’s most sustainable municipal building, according to Buro Happold Managing Partner David Herd, who worked on the project.
“The ILFI Living Building Challenge is the preeminent regenerative and expansive measurement process for the built environment on the planet,” Herd says. “Net-positive energy, net-positive water, equity, embodied carbon, materials Red List, health, and happiness—Living Building Challenge has got the lot and challenges all members of the client, design, and construction teams to stretch beyond convention and step into a highly progressive future of building and system design, construction and operation.”
The city of Santa Monica is set to have a new Living Building thanks to this most recent extension to its City Hall. The 50,200-square-foot Santa Monica City Services Building will house innovative energy-efficient civic offices and is the first municipally owned public services facility in the US to recycle rainwater into potable water and store all of its greywater for irrigation and other city uses, according to the team at Buro Happold.
How do you build one of the most sustainable buildings in the world?
The Living Building Challenge offers up the most rigorous performance standards in the built environment, surpassing even the highest LEED certification requirements, which demand a building make positive contributions to its environment as opposed to merely lessening its negative impact.
Herd said the biggest challenge on this project was budget control. “In a hot construction market with sub-contractors busy on ‘easier, less risky, more profitable’ work, and with limited product choices and a complex permitting process, the general contractor had an uphill task with cost control,” he says. “Ultimately the client’s selection of the team of Hathaway Dinwiddie Contractors, Fredrick Fisher and Partners Architects, and Buro Happold provided collective market experience and knowledge pivotal in managing the project budget.”
How They Did It
Buro Happold took a passive approach to design that proposes to make the most of all available natural resources. They streamlined the building’s electricity requirements so they could all be met through a photovoltaic array on the roof. They minimized heating and cooling loads by making strategic use of both daylight and natural ventilation.
The team also designed two water strategies that would allow the building’s needs to be met by water harvested onsite. The first captures and treats rainwater for potable use throughout the building, which will be supplemented by a ground well with reverse osmosis water treatment for top-up during low rainfall years. The second captures greywater and condensate from the air handling units, which will then be used for onsite irrigation.
“The water story could be made into a Hollywood drama,” Herd laughs. He says the team went above and beyond what had been achieved in California before, tackling permitting jurisdictions at city, county, and state level. They went back time and time again to negotiate different elements of the scheme, ultimately succeeding in obtaining permits and permissions from all parties. “There was blood, sweat, and quite a few tears, but the end result is very satisfying.”
A Call to Action
Herd says Santa Monica has aggressively raised the bar for municipal building design and construction. “The client was bold and visionary, selecting a design and construction team that guided the delivery of the vision to a successful conclusion. Others now need to follow,” he says. “Public buildings are owner-occupied, 50+ year lifecycle projects not aiming for ROI for a developer. They are the perfect candidate for the Living Building Challenge. Cities must make the investment to build sustainable, resilient, and healthy buildings that will ultimately save the planet as well as taxpayer dollars. Now that Santa Monica has set the direction forward, other municipalities can now benefit from the lessons learned, reducing the scariness of the unknown and reducing schedule and cost risk.”
Project: Santa Monica City Services Building Location: Santa Monica, CA Completion: Expected in 2020 Size: 50,000 square feet Cost: $57 million Architect: Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects Engineering & Consulting: Buro Happold Builder: Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co. Awards: 2019 AIA|LA COTE NEXT Award, 2020 AIA|LA Building Team of the Year Award