The challenge: Tall and super-tall buildings: Automation and controls

High-rise buildings aren’t just big—for engineers, they present big challenges. Building automation systems and integration are top-of-mind in these projects


Jason Heffelmire, PE Gulf Coast operations director, TLC Engineering for Architecture, Tampa, Fla. Courtesy: TLC Engineering for Architecture Mehdi Jalayerian, Executive vice president, Environmental Systems Design, Chicago, Ill. Courtesy: Environmental Systems DesignJim Quiter, PE, FSFPE, LEED AP, Principal, Arup, San Francisco, Calif. Courtesy: Arup


Jason Heffelmire, PE Gulf Coast operations director, TLC Engineering for Architecture, Tampa, Fla.

Mehdi Jalayerian, Executive vice president, Environmental Systems Design, Chicago, Ill.

Jim Quiter, PE, FSFPE, LEED AP, Principal, Arup, San Francisco, Calif.

CSE: When designing integration monitoring and control systems, what factors do you consider?

Heffelmire: Keep them simple but not simpler. Simple is beautiful. This is the most important factor to consider with technology constantly improving and changing right after products are sold. There is no such thing as the perfect software. There are always glitches, patches, and a new version right around the corner. 

CSE: What are some common problems you encounter when working on building automation systems (BAS)?

Heffelmire: Training operators who have very little formal computer knowledge. I am learning something new every day. Fire alarm systems are very complicated and require specialized training, as do the more advanced digital-based HVAC and lighting control systems. 

CSE: Describe a recent tall/super-high-rise project in which you integrated HVAC, lighting, and/or daylighting with the building automation or building management systems.

Heffelmire: For the Signature Place Project, we managed to keep controls under control. Many times the BAS is capable of also monitoring the fire alarm system. Exterior lighting controls were kept as stand-alone systems. The building’s smoke evacuation system consisted of the tower corridors, two tower stairwells, ground floor elevator lobby, and elevator hoistways. System control was provided by a functional matrix and the fire alarm system by pressurizing all areas of building egress. 

CSE: What types of cutting-edge control systems have you specified into these buildings? What type of push-back are you receiving from the contractors, clients, or other team members?

Heffelmire: We try to limit the use of cutting-edge control systems in all our buildings unless absolutely required. 

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