Santa Monica City Services Building

Santa Monica, CA

The 50,200ft2  Santa Monica City Services Building will meet the world’s most rigorous criteria for sustainability, resiliency and long-term cost-effectiveness.


Buro Happold is providing integrated engineering and consulting services to ensure the new office building meets Living Building Challenge™ criteria – the world’s most stringent green building rating system. Conferred through the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), this certification aligns directly with long-range sustainability commitments made by the Santa Monica City Council to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner, water self-sufficiency by 2023 and zero waste by 2030.

To meet Living Building Challenge criteria, the City Services Building must be “healthy and beautiful, surpassing even the highest LEED certification requirements,” according to ILFI, and it must offer “regenerative spaces that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.” In addition, the new structure must be self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of its site – producing more energy than they use, collecting and treating water on the site, and ultimately “creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.”

The standard ensures that the Santa Monica City Services Building will actually make positive contributions to its environment as opposed to merely lessen its negative impact.

The City Services Building provides a highly effective platform for delivering key services while ensuring a healthy, enjoyable work experience and service environment. Image: Alex Nye


The Buro Happold team used passive design techniques to maximize daylight, views and natural ventilation to ensure occupant comfort while minimizing energy use. As a new workplace, the City Services Building 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 optimize 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.

Providing specialist guidance and sustainable strategies to realize a building that makes a positive contribution to both its users and the environment. Image: Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects

Buro Happold was exceptional to work with for the City’s Living Building Challenge office project. From their wealth of international innovation experience to their collaborative approach to solving complex design and governance issues, we were grateful to have Buro Happold on the team. The building will push the industry 20 years forward and Buro Happold deserves all the credit in the world for making it happen.

Joel Cesare, previous Project Manager, City of Santa Monica


By incorporating the unique water systems and numerous other sustainable strategies into the design model, Buro Happold has shown that the project is on track to secure Living Building Challenge certification – a measurable achievement and shining example of sustainable design.

As envisioned by city officials, the new structure will be 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 Services Building 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.

Image: Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects

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