What’s so special about office buildings? Learn about automation and controls

Office buildings are complex structures containing automated features, energy-saving designs, high-tech equipment and other components as advanced as you’d find in any other state-of-the-art project. Building automation and controls play a key role

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer January 30, 2020


Jon Anderson 

DLR Group 

With 12 years of experience in HVAC design, Anderson is senior associate and Mechanical Engineering Lead for the company’s Colorado offices. He supervises the Denver mechanical team and ensures each project’s success.  


Elizabeth Slyziuk 


Serving as Associate Principal, Slyziuk first joined the firm in 2006. Her portfolio includes data centers, courthouses and other high-profile projects. 


Mark Walsh-Cooke 


As a principal in the firm’s Boston office, Walsh-Cooke brings more than 30 years of industry experience to the table. His areas of focus include sustainable, zero net energy and environmentally responsible design, enhancing the environmental performance of new and existing buildings.  


Anthony “Tony” Zaudtke 


Zaudtke joined Mortenson in 2018 as MEP Design Phase Manager, bringing extensive engineering experience. He graduated from North Dakota State University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Computer Engineering. 

CSE: From your experience, what systems within office building projects are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been? 

Zaudtke: With open protocols and integration, all systems are benefiting from automation. Integration of multiple systems, allowing them to communicate and trigger events it is creating endless opportunities. Security cameras used as counters to trigger a cleaning crew into operation, occupancy sensors used to see how frequently conference rooms are being used, some sensors even count people to determine how full a conference room is (i.e., a 10-person conference room often has two or three people in it). Understanding what information is already being captured in one system and using in a different system is a huge benefit.  

Slyziuk: Technology affords a building with a level of control that was not available before IPbased systems. Power awareness and savings are the most notable benefits. Office buildings with conference rooms as amenities are able to be scheduled with full lighting and HVAC controls. The lighting systems can be controlled to save power by using sensors and light harvesting.  

Walsh-Cooke: I’m seeing developments in both the smart control of elevators and the holistic monitoring and measurement of building energy systems. 

CSE: What types of system integration and/or interoperability issues have you overcome for these projects and how did you do so?  

Slyziuk: Historically, integration of disparate systems has been a challenge. However, with the convergence to IPbased systems interoperability has improved. Manufacturers also offer software application program interface to allow for customizing systems for greater levels of control.  

CSE: Is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project? Describe an instance in which you’ve turned over the BIM to the facility maintenance team for long-term operations and maintenance or measurement and verification.  

Walsh-Cooke: We are using BIM on all our projects for design the delivery phase. These models are typically then handed over to the contractor for them to develop their installation drawings. For existing buildings, owner understands the benefit of scanning the building and developing an as-built Revit model in most cases. 

Slyziuk: The majority of our projects are now using BIM for design. The design model typically serves as a concept that includes major equipment with pipes and conduits that are 4 inches or larger. This model is delivered to the contractor upon which the detail is improved to include smaller pipes/conduits dependent of the contractual level of design. This model is turned over to the owner and becomes a valuable O&M tool. 

CSE: In what way is the need for more smart technology and features in such buildings affecting your work on these projects? 

Slyziuk: These systems are using a shared infrastructure. The cable tray/pathways must be designed to accommodate current and future cabling needs. Many smart technology devices will communicate wirelessly so the wireless network infrastructure must be designed to ensure a robust and scalable wireless network.  

CSE: What smart devices are office building owners requesting and how are you meeting these needs?  

Anderson: We have been asked by some building owners to provide temperature setpoint control for their users directly through their smartphone. In the age of the smartphone and better wireless technology, this is becoming increasingly popular for some owners. 

Zaudtke: Smart devices and buildings are brought up on every project. One of best ways to meet this need is to take a step back and understand what smart means to the owner and the owner’s business. Everyone has a different perspective and what is smart for one person or business may be unnecessary for the next. As the term smart building is used often, we need to be good stewards to owners to help them understand what smart means to them and help them realize what’s possible for their specific project.