What’s so special about office buildings? Learn about electrical and lighting solutions

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. Electrical, power and lighting systems are at the forefront

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer February 18, 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: Are there any issues unique to designing electrical/power systems for these types of facilities?  

Walsh-Cooke: Boston has recently published the Carbon Free Boston report, which requires significant reductions in carbon emissions by 2050. This is beginning to drive legislation and therefore how our clients see the future of their assets. Consequently, several of our commercial office buildings in design in downtown Boston are considering using heat pump technologies to provide both heating and cooling. These systems therefore have an impact on the design of the electrical systems. There is also a permitting requirement for large projects to carry out a microgrid study. 

Zaudtke: Open-floorplan concepts are very common in design. Getting MEP and technology systems to the users in open floor plans in an aesthetic and cost-effective way continues to be challenging. Timber construction and post-tension slabs are a couple of examples where simple things like floor penetrations to workstations become challenging. Some solutions have included: 3-inch raised floors, power poles, umbilical cords and a random pattern of painted conduits to play up the industrial look.  

Slyziuk: Constant changing of electrical equipment requirements and new building features like car charging stations, exterior smart glass, exterior decorative LEDs and building automation are challenging. Ensuring that there is enough electrical capacity while keeping the cost down is also a challenge and requires open and constant communication with the owner to ensure that current and future owner requirements are met. Another challenge unique to designing electrical systems for office buildings is designing in flexibility for future use. As previously mentioned, over the lifetime of a space, it is common for multiple tenants to move in and the space will need to be reconfigured to easily suit the new client’s needs.  

CSE: What types of unusual standby, emergency or backup power systems have you specified for office buildings 

Slyziuk: There is an increasing need of uninterruptible power supply system not only for IT rooms also for workstations. Many clients are looking for UPS power to ensure that not all workstation go down during a utility power outage. Many people work from home and access to their company resources is becoming a 24/7 uptime requirements. For one project in Austin, Texas, about half the building is designated by the owner to be a 24/7 operating space. In those critical spaces, the mechanical ventilation is on backup generator, the workstations are on UPS power, lighting is on emergency power as well as power for breakrooms.  

Walsh-Cooke: We have an ongoing commercial renovation project (confidential client) that is being designed to be both photovoltaic and battery storage-ready to allow the tenant to install these technologies. 

CSE: What kind of maintenance guidelines are involved to ensure the project is running efficiently after the project is finished?  

Slyziuk: Owners are including maintenance options as part of the design specifications to ensure systems run at max efficiency. We are seeing fiveyear maintenance contracts with vendors to ensure systems like UPSs, automatic transfer switches and generators are running reliably and efficiently. Another method is for vendors to hold a second owner training session a few months after the owner has taken over the building. This way, the owner’s maintenance staff will have a chance to operate the building first and come to the second training session with specific queries.  

CSE: How does your team work with the architect, owner’s rep and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable? 

Slyziuk: Because we have all services under the same company, we work directly with the architect at the programing phase. This allows us to work together during this phase to establish sustainable goals that can be achieved and meet the client expectations. 

CSE: What kind of lighting designs have you incorporated into an office building project, either for energy efficiency or to increase the occupant’s experience?  

Walsh-Cooke: The fitout at our own Arup office at 60 State Street in Boston achieved U.S. Green Building Council LEED CI Platinum, WELL Gold and Fitwell 3 Star. A contributing strategy was the incorporation of circadian lighting. The light fixtures are combination up and down lighting with a control system that automatically adjusts color temperature and brightness throughout the day to replicate daylight. 

Slyziuk: We always try to maximize bringing the “exterior surroundings” of the building into the interior space through architectural features. This helps improve the occupant experience because there is a connection to nature from the interior. Being in an integrated architectural and engineering firm is especially helpful because we can run quick calculations during the schematic design phase to help our architects make smart decisions and emphasis the human-centric lighting. 

CSE: When designing lighting systems for these types of structures, what design factors are being requested? Are there any particular technical advantages that are or need to be considered? 

Slyziuk: Dimming is one of the biggest requests. LED technology helps bring the costs of providing our clients with dimming compared to traditional light sources such as fluorescent. Dimming gives our clients flexibility to tailor the lighting levels to suit their uses and needs. Clients want to maximize outdoor lighting through daylight harvesting. It also helps reduce the energy consumption of the lights. It is very important to work with the architects early in the design phase to ensure that we maximize the uses of daylight harvesting. In some cases, circadian rhythm lighting has been requested by our clients. They want to help their occupant’s circadian rhythms by having the interior lighting color temperature mimic the exterior color temperature of the sun.