Office buildings focus on air quality, energy efficiency: Building automation

Designing office buildings in a post-COVID world is a challenging task with engineering variables; building automation and controls come into play

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer February 17, 2021


  • Elena Bollas, PE, Mechanical Engineer, Page, Austin, Texas
  • Timothy J. Hedrick, PE, Principal/Electrical Engineer, RTM Engineering Consultants, Schaumburg, Ill.
  • Dan Luzius, LEED AP, Principal, DLR Group, Seattle
  • Jon Silhol, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Mechanical Engineer, SmithGroup, Phoenix

What mechanical, electrical, plumbing or fire protection systems within office buildings require specialized automation or controls that previously might not have?

Elena Bollas: Recently we implemented specialized HVAC and lighting controls to operate with electro-chromatic glass on an office building.

Are you seeing automation and control features on these types of projects that you wouldn’t on other facilities?

Elena Bollas: Integrating lighting occupancy sensors with the HVAC system to allow for improved ventilation control is a feature we occasionally see in a variety of projects, but it is a consistent detail in office buildings.

Considering COVID-19 issues, what smart technologies are you being asked to specify to improve working conditions?

Elena Bollas: We are seeing an increase in the use of temperature-scanning kiosks, which use a combination of facial recognition technology and temperature testing to quickly take and record to help stop the spread of potential of the COVID-19 virus.

How have your engineers worked with building owners and facility managers to implement integrated technology in these structures?

Elena Bollas: We emphasize integration through specification requirements and vendor training. Controls integration is constantly changing and having a tech from a vendor speak to the facilities team and walk them through their specific controls in regularly scheduled events for the first few years is extremely beneficial.

Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owners to design a project?

Dan Luzius: BIM is at the core of our integrated design approach and how we design buildings. Our in-house architects, interior designers, engineers and high-performance design teams all collaborate in common BIM models. Our approach allows us to find cost-effective, energy-efficient solutions much earlier in the design phase. We encourage our engineers and architects to leverage the models and put themselves in each other’s shoes. We leverage virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to help our clients understand the design during every phase. We work with contractors in a variety of ways, often bringing the trades into the design models for real time clash detection and coordination toward the end of design and through construction.

Elena Bollas: Yes.