Is this the world's smartest, greenest building?

Is this the world's smartest, greenest building?

[Editor's Note: San Francisco-based Smart Buildings helped design and develop the new headquarters of the city's public utility commission. As managing principal of Smart Buildings, Jim Sinopoli offers a behind-the-scenes look at the LEED Platinum candidate, which has already snagged awards from the San Francisco American Institute of Architects.]

It is no surprise that an eclectic and progressive city like San Francisco would be home to the smartest green building in the world. The newly constructed San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC), which provides retail drinking water, wastewater and green hydroelectric and solar power services to Bay Area municipalities, has raised the bar quite high for energy efficiency and sustainability. The building, which is the third largest municipal utility in California, uses 55 percent less energy and consumes 32 percent less electrical demand than the ASHRAE baseline standard.

LEED Platinum Certification

The building is a LEED Platinum candidate, which is no easy feat. LEED elements were incorporated early into the design process to create a healthier workspace, reduce environmental impact and provide the economic benefits of a more sustainable, energy-efficient building.

“The goal for the building was to consume as few resources as possible and thereby create a model for development of sustainable high-rise buildings in urban areas with creative planning,” SFPUC engineer Masoud Vafaei said. “To meet our aggressive target for energy efficiency beyond California’s energy code required the right design, right tools and the right team.”

The project's LEED design features include wind turbines, operable windows that allow for natural ventilation, three rooftop solar platforms with 684 panels and wastewater recycling.

KMD, the building's architect, was honored with two awards for its design from the San Francisco American Institute of Architects (AIA). Most notably, the project won for its "Integrated Project Delivery,"  a best practice that results in improved coordination and a timely delivery.

System Integration

The building is green, but what makes it smart? The Integrated Building Management System (IBMS) integrates data from every building system, which increases functionality between the building systems. It also provides a suite of software applications and operational tools to monitor and manage the building’s performance in real-time.

“The design team worked together to make this project an innovative masterpiece of building design.  Without the team collaboration, there would have been missed opportunities,” Vafaei said.

During the design of the IBMS, a “compliance statement” was issued to all system designers.  This statement required the use of open communication protocols and databases, as well as submittals of points list, IP addresses, control drawings and all other pertinent information on the building’s systems. The compliance statement was instrumental in configuring and integrating the systems.


The IBMS can monitor and manage every data point from every building system, which in itself sets a new benchmark. The systems monitored and managed by the IBMS include the elevators, the lighting controls, and the waste water treatment system.

The IBMS collects and converts the building systems data into a standard format, which is used to provide information and manage building operations.

“The integration of all the data points of all the building subsystems is a new model for monitoring and managing a building’s performance – it has not been done before to this level of detail and sophistication ,” said Smart Buildings' Andres Szmulewicz, the IBMS designer for the project.

The IBMS is a typical building management system, but it has some additional features such as alarm management and a public dashboard that displays the building's energy savings in real-time. 

The IBMS can also integrate into an existing facilities management system (FMS). The FMS has applications such as work orders, asset management, inventory and preventative maintenance. The IBMS and the FMS will exchange data with each other. For example, an alarm in the IBMS will trigger a work order in the FMS, or the FMS may trigger a preventative or predictive maintenance service order based equipment run time data obtained from the IBMS. 

This approach has a number of benefits, Vafaei said. A central database makes it easier to create relevant information that will support improved building operations and engineering. It also integrates the systems, where an event or condition in one system can spur action in another system. 

“We become more proactive and less wait, break and fix and thereby improving the quality and lifecycle of our equipment,” Vafaei said.


The data in the IBMS is displayed on dashboards, which provides information to different groups. For example, a dashboard may provide facility operators with information on alerts and alarms for a particular system, area and time period. Or a dashboard may allow individual departments to track their energy consumption and sustainability initiatives.

There are more than 450 dashboards providing facility engineers, operators, facility managers, business managers and executives, employees, visitors and the public with information specific to their needs. This information helps users contribute to building optimization, performance and efficiency.

The SFPUC has constructed a top notch energy efficient and sustainable building. The IBMS assures that advanced software tools will provide the SFPUC long-term capabilities to manage building operations, energy, sustainability and ongoing costs.

Photo courtesy of Smart Buildings, LLC.