• Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners, courtesy Buro Happold

    Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners, courtesy Buro Happold

  • Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners, courtesy Buro Happold

    Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners, courtesy Buro Happold

  • Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners, courtesy Buro Happold

    Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners, courtesy Buro Happold

  • Photos/stills by Alex Nye, courtesy Buro Happold

    Photos/stills by Alex Nye, courtesy Buro Happold

  • Photos/stills by Alex Nye, courtesy Buro Happold

    Photos/stills by Alex Nye, courtesy Buro Happold


Publicly Accessible Buildings

Buro Happold win AIA Team Award for Living Building in Santa Monica

Santa Monica City Hall East stands as one of the greenest structures globally, winning the 2020 Building Team of the Year Award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

by Georgina Johnston 13 November 2020 Sustainable Buildings

As engineer and Living Building Challenge consultant for the project team, Buro Happold supported the architect Frederick Fisher & Partners and builder Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Los Angeles board of directors will present the team with the prestigious laurels, part of its Presidential Awards, in late October during the group’s annual Design Awards ceremony. The project earns praise for its leadership in building netzero, highly sustainable municipal facilities.

The Building Team of the Year Award acknowledges the efforts of a variety of entities successfully working together in the formation of a significant contribution to the built environment of the Los Angeles area. The board could not think of a project more deserving for this award.

C. Caccavale, Hon., Director, AIA LA executive

The modern expansion of Santa Monica’s city hall complex adds a range of cutting edge features to the municipality’s facilities, including a water-recycling solar power array on the roof. The super green new structure is tracking to achieve the exceptional Living Building status, according to Amber Richane, the city’s head of sustainability, and Buro Happold architect Heidi Creighton, AIA, LEED Fellow, WELL Faculty and Fitwel Ambassador, who helped lead the collaborative effort along with Buro Happold engineer Julian Parsley P.E. spearheading the mechanical and plumbing systems design for the unusually efficient, sustainable building.

“Living Building Challenge is a rigorous and quite rare achievement for a government owner,” says David Herd, managing partner for Buro Happold, Los Angeles, who adds that the municipally owned public services facility is unique in the nation as the first to recycle rainwater into potable water and store all of its greywater for irrigation and other city uses. 

Other innovations the team developed for Santa Monica’s City Hall East include "edible plants and sunset art," as well as:

  • Achieving netzero water through composting toilets and greywater reuse for irrigation landscaping across the City Hall campus.

  • Super efficient radiant cooling and heating, high performance glazing, natural ventilation, and phase change insulating materials.

  • No red list chemicals within the building except those required by code, which means no halogenated flame retardants, PVC, or phthalates. 

Efficiently housed in a single structure measuring 50,200 sq ft with three floors and a basement, the City Hall East building brings key departments and vital public counter functions under one roof.

Buro Happold says that other state, federal and municipal agencies have carefully watched Santa Monicato create their own super green buildings with low water use.

Collaborating with city leadership, the project team includes prime contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction  Co., the architect Frederick Fisher & Partners, and engineer and Living Building consultant Buro Happold.  

The Santa Monica City Hall East meets the world’s most rigorous criteria for sustainability, resiliency and long term, cost effectiveness. It is an inspiring model of green design aimed at efficient operations, a healthy and productive workplace, and positive contributions to one of America’s most successful municipalities. Connected to the historic City Hall's South Wing, the building fulfills a vision to bring all core municipal operations into one City Hall Campus and create a centralised hub for public counter services.

As a Living Building, the new facility will produce the energy and water it consumes on site, marking a shift away from buildings that merely use less to a generation of buildings that are regenerative, a model of Santa Monica’s fiscal and environmental sustainability. Utility costs will be saved over the life of the building and it will never have water or electric bills. Only the healthiest building materials have been used, demonstrating Santa Monica’s commitment to public wellbeing. Local contractors and suppliers involved in creating the Living Building have benefited from education and advocacy of green building solutions offered by the project leaders. Taking advantage of the best and most sustainable options, the City of Santa Monica is leveraging existing resources by housing staff in its own resilient, green spaces designed for high functionality and long term, low cost ownership. This allows for greater return on investment and better service delivery from a 21st century government leader; offering a model of 21st century city governance with a transparent, open design.

The city leaders and project team behind this new civic resource have worked to achieve certification from the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most stringent green building rating system.

For these reasons, the completed City Hall East will stand among the greenest structures in the world as measured against an authoritative international benchmark that ENR recently called “the world’s most demanding  sustainable building programme.” The City Hall East will also exceed Santa Monica’s current sustainability standards  and set global records as the first municipal structure to receive Living Building Challenge certification. 

Developed through an intricate architectural strategy supported by integrated engineering and construction  processes, the new City Hall East has been in planning since 2014. The design fulfils a long held, planned vision to centralise core municipal operations, which currently are dispersed throughout town in leased offices, bringing some 240 City staff members to create a City Hall campus, with public services smartly consolidated into a "one-stop hub" location on the first floor. The building will be cash positive by year 16 after opening. 

As a new workplace, the City Hall East provides a highly effective platform for delivering key services while ensuring  a healthy, enjoyable work experience and service environment. Strategic uses of both daylight and natural  ventilation enhance heating and cooling performance while reducing operating and maintenance costs while also  providing health and wellness benefits. Radiant tubing embedded throughout the open plan offices and meeting rooms efficiently heat and cool the space and optimise comfort. Phase change material adds further effective thermal mass in lightweight partitions, absorbing heat by day and releasing it at night. Building electricity is  supplied by photovoltaic arrays rooftop and solar shade structure photovoltaics arrays.    

Three separate water strategies collectively allow all the building’s needs to be met by water harvested on site. First, the projected water and sewer demand for the structure was cut by half with the introduction of a foam based composting system for all the lavatories. The system units are located in the basement of the structure and require periodic maintenance. For potable water uses, rainwater from the roof is captured in a 40,000 gallon cistern located beneath the building; in drought conditions, the rainwater system is supplemented by groundwater pumped from a well drilled on site, all rainwater and groundwater is treated with a combination of cartridge filters and granulated active carbon filters on site. Lastly, for non-potable water uses, a system captures greywater and  condensate from the cooling system’s air-handling units, which is treated via a moving bed-membrane bioreactor and used for onsite irrigation. 

A spacious, palm filled courtyard connects the new building to the iconic Santa Monica City Hall. Tables and chairs on the grounds welcome both city workers and the public, with smooth concrete paths and low stairs leading citizens of all ages and abilities to a welcoming, glass wrapped lobby. On the first floor, carefully combined areas merge public service and workspace. Glowing with natural sunlight, a new waiting area greets visitors to the Public Counter and Services Center. Narrow floor plates throughout help illuminate all interior areas with daylight, reducing electric lighting needs and boosting wellness for users. 

On each floor, expansive break rooms and kitchens serve city employees, inspiring frequent interaction in  comfortable surroundings. 

Designed for both casual and formal conversation, the workplace offers small meeting  rooms, kitchen islands, coffee bars and long, window facing desks to permit movement and variety throughout the workday. The fluid layout intentionally facilitates efficient movement between workstations, work areas, and  building wings. Employees enter into their work zones, which combine collaboration areas with open-plan offices equipped with durable, modular adjustable height desks and rolling chairs. On floors two and three, more open plan workspaces are flanked by meeting rooms and specialised offices. The second floor also connects to the City Hall building via a dedicated hallway, further improving efficient connections between staff and agencies.

The City Hall East was financed with the goal of being fiscally, environmentally and socially responsible. The City Council and Public Financing Authority opted for “green finance”, the construction cost of about $77m is financed with a green bond that becomes cash positive in year 16. The quick return is largely due to savings from eliminating leased office space. The decision also makes the general funds paying for these leaseholds available for other community serving uses.    

The new facility consolidates about 240 city staff previously housed in private leased space spread throughout downtown Santa Monica, where tenant leases are expensive and expected to increase substantially for decades to come. Lease savings from relocations have financed the cost of the green bond issued to pay for the City Hall East. In less than 30 years, lease savings are projected to exceed the cost of financing the new construction. In addition, the building pays for itself well within its useful life of 100 years or more; at its 31 year mark, the City Hall East will save taxpayers $9.8m annually, and for the decades following, its uniquely sustainable design will minimise utility bills and operations and maintenance costs. 

By incorporating the unique water systems and numerous other sustainable strategies into their design model, the  Santa Monica City Hall East team has shown that the project is on track to secure Living Building Challenge’s  certification, a measurable achievement and shining example of sustainable design. As envisioned by city officials,  the new structure is one of the greenest buildings in the world, exceeding Santa Monica’s sustainability standards  and reinforcing its commitment to high-performance design. The architecture, engineering and construction practices behind the City Hall East consider not only the environment and the challenge of climate change but also the human health aspect of government work and services. It presents an image of transparency and openness to the citizens it serves. 

Tracking certification under the Living Building Challenge has allowed city leadership to benchmark current  performance and set goals for the coming years. These initiatives will show how visionary policy, good government,  and architecture and engineering contribute to fiscal responsibility, lower energy use, reduced operational  challenges, and greater quality of life for workers and for all city dwellers alike.

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