Buro Happold, Architects Win Prestigious AIA Team Award for Santa Monica City Hall East “Living Building”

Earning praise for its leadership in building net-zero, highly sustainable municipal facilities, the newly completed Santa Monica City Hall East has claimed yet another honor, winning the 2020 Building Team of the Year Award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

As engineer and Living Building Challenge consultant for the project team, Buro Happold supported the architect Frederick Fisher & Partners and builder Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co. The AIA Los Angeles board of directors will present the team with the prestigious laurels, part of its Presidential Awards, in late October during the group’s annual Design Awards ceremony.

“The Building Team of the Year Award acknowledges the efforts of a variety of entities successfully working together in the formation of a significant contribution to the built environment of the Los Angeles area,” according to AIA LA executive director Carlo Caccavale, Hon. AIA. “The board could not think of a project more deserving for this award.”

The modern expansion of Santa Monica’s city hall complex adds a range of cutting-edge features to the municipality’s facilities, including a water-recycling solar power array on the roof. The super-green new structure is tracking to achieve the exceptional Living Building status, according to Amber Richane, the city’s head of sustainability, and Buro Happold architect Heidi Creighton, AIA, LEED Fellow, WELL Faculty and Fitwel Ambassador, who helped lead the collaborative effort along with Buro Happold engineer Julian Parsley P.E. spearheading the mechanical and plumbing systems design for the unusually efficient, sustainable building.

“Living Building Challenge is a rigorous and quite rare achievement for a government owner,” says David Herd, managing partner for Buro Happold, Los Angeles, who adds that the municipally owned public services facility is unique in the nation as the first to recycle rainwater into potable water and store all of its greywater for irrigation and other city uses. Other innovations the team developed for Santa Monica’s City Hall East include “edible plants and sunset art,” as well as:

  • Achieving net-zero water through composting toilets and graywater reuse for irrigation landscaping across the City Hall campus.
  • Super-efficient radiant cooling/heating, high-performance glazing, natural ventilation, and phase-change insulating materials.
  • No red list chemicals within the building except those required by code, which means no halogenated flame retardants, PVC, or phthalates.

Efficiently housed in a single structure measuring 50,200 square feet with three floors and a basement, the City Hall East building brings key departments and vital public counter functions under one roof.

Buro Happold says that other state, federal and municipal agencies have carefully watched Santa Monica to create their own super-green buildings with low water use. A new video by Buro Happold on the award-winning Santa Monica City Hall East may be viewed online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpOybZARYWk.

More details on the project below:

City of Santa Monica City Hall East 


The Santa Monica City Hall East meets the world’s most rigorous criteria for sustainability, resiliency and long-term cost-effectiveness. It is an inspiring model of green design aimed at efficient operations, a healthy and productive workplace, and positive contributions to one of America’s most successful municipalities. Connected to the historic City Hall’s South Wing, the building fulfills a vision to bring all core municipal operations into one City Hall Campus and create a centralized hub for public counter services. The building will reduce municipal costs over time when it opens in April 2020, even as its design meets cutting-edge criteria for the Living Building Challenge – all supporting the city’s commitment to sustainability with goals for carbon neutrality, water self-sufficiency, and zero waste in the coming decades.

As a Living Building, the new facility will produce the energy and water it consumes on site, marking a shift away from buildings that merely use less to a generation of buildings that are regenerative — a model of Santa Monica’s fiscal and environmental sustainability. Utility costs will be saved over the life of the building and it will never have water or electric bills. Only the healthiest building materials have been used, demonstrating Santa Monica’s commitment to public wellbeing. Local contractors and suppliers involved in creating the Living Building have benefited from education and advocacy of green building solutions offered by the project leaders. Taking advantage of the best and most sustainable options, the City of Santa Monica is leveraging existing resources by housing staff in its own resilient, green spaces designed for high functionality and long-term, low-cost ownership. This allows for greater return on investment and better service delivery from a 21st-century government leader.

Collaborating with city leadership, the project team includes prime contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co., the architect Frederick Fisher & Partners, and engineer and Living Building consultant Buro Happold.

Contractor: Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company

Architect: Frederick Fisher & Partners, Joseph Coriaty, FAIA, and Mariam Mojdehi, AIA

Engineer and Living Building consultant: Buro Happold, David Herd and Julian Parsley, PE

City of Santa Monica, City Project Manager: Amber Richane

City of Santa Monica, City Construction Manager: Tim Purcell Chief Sustainability Officer: Shannon Parry


The Santa Monica City Hall East offers a model of 21st-century city governance with a transparent, open design. It aspires to be the greenest municipal building in the world and will be a one-stop-hub for the entire community to do business with the City while dramatically reducing off-site leasing costs for office space. The city leaders and project team behind this new civic resource have worked to achieve certification from the Living Building Challenge – 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. Certified Living Buildings must achieve net-zero energy and water – meaning the buildings produce as much as they consume – in addition to other environmental criteria.

For these reasons, the completed City Hall East will stand among the greenest structures in the world as measured against an authoritative international benchmark that ENR recently called “the world’s most demanding sustainable-building program.” The City Hall East will also exceed Santa Monica’s current sustainability standards and set global records as the first municipal structure to receive Living Building Challenge certification.

To meet Living Building Challenge™ criteria, the City Hall East 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 Hall East will actually make positive contributions to its environment as opposed to merely lessen its negative impact.


The Santa Monica City Hall East is a proud addition to the municipality’s vision for its Civic Center district. A new public resource and civic amenity, the structure stands among many exciting new community investments that support major water infrastructure, expand access to early childhood education, and increase athletics and fitness.

The transparent, light-filled City Hall East complements the iconic and historic Santa Monica City Hall designed by Parkinson and Estep as a Public Works Administration project in 1939. The original Art Deco building, which paid for itself long ago, retains its position of prominence as a state and local landmark. Sitting seamlessly behind it, the modern, clean-lined new building extends the public campus from Main Street to Avenida Mazatlan.

Efficiently housed in a single structure measuring 50,200 square feet in area with three floors and a basement, the City Hall East brings key departments and vital public counter functions under one roof. The integral design streamlines services into a one-stop location, benefiting community members. Designed as an adaptable, supportive workplace, the City Hall East offers state-of-the-art work environments including efficient office areas, and collaboration zones. Passive design techniques maximize daylight, views and natural ventilation to ensure occupant comfort while minimizing energy use. Additionally, the building is hardened against natural disasters and will serve as an essential public safety services center in the event of emergency.


Developed through an intricate architectural strategy supported by integrated engineering and construction processes, the new City Hall East has been in planning since 2014. The design fulfils a long-held, planned vision to centralize core municipal operations, which today are dispersed throughout town in leased offices, bringing some 240 City staff members to create a City Hall Campus, with public services smartly consolidated into a “one-stop hub” location on the first floor. The building will be cash positive by year 16 after opening.

As a new workplace, the City Hall East 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.


From the start, city officials envisioned the City Hall East as among the greenest buildings in the world. In addition to creating more energy and water than it uses, the City Hall Campus hosts gardens in its courtyard and grounds for farming edible crops and supporting bee and bird populations. With these urban agriculture features, the City Hall East advances Santa Monica’s sustainability standards and sets international records as the first municipal structure with Living Building Challenge certification. Seeing what’s possible, other municipalities and private developers can model the City Hall East for healthier buildings and a healthier environment.

A spacious, palm-filled courtyard connects the new building to the iconic Santa Monica City Hall. Tables and chairs on the grounds welcome both city workers and the public, with smooth concrete paths and low stairs leading citizens of all ages and abilities to a welcoming, glass-wrapped lobby. On the first floor, carefully combined areas merge public service and workspace. Glowing with natural sunlight, a new waiting area greets visitors to the Public Counter/ Services Center. Narrow floorplates throughout help illuminate all interior areas with daylight, reducing electric lighting needs and boosting wellness for users.

On each floor, expansive breakrooms and kitchens serve city employees, inspiring frequent interaction in comfortable surroundings. Designed for both casual and formal conversation, the workplace offers small meeting rooms, kitchen islands, coffee bars and long, window-facing desks to permit movement and variety throughout the workday. The fluid layout intentionally facilitates efficient movement between workstations, work areas, and building wings. Employees enter into their work zones, which combine collaboration areas with open-plan offices equipped with durable, modular adjustable-height desks and rolling chairs. On floors two and three, more open- plan workspaces are flanked by meeting rooms and specialized offices. The second floor also connects to the City Hall building via a dedicated hallway, further improving efficient connections between staff and agencies.


The City Hall East was financed with the goal of being fiscally, environmentally and socially responsible. The City Council and Public Financing Authority opted for “green finance” – the construction cost of about $77 million is financed with a green bond that becomes cash positive in year 16. The quick return is largely due to savings from eliminating leased office space. The decision also makes the general funds paying for these leaseholds available for other community-serving uses.

The new facility consolidates about 240 city staff previously housed in private leased space spread throughout downtown Santa Monica, where tenant leases are expensive and expected to increase substantially for decades to come. Lease savings from relocations have financed the cost of the green bond issued to pay for the City Hall East. In less than 30 years, lease savings are projected to exceed the cost of financing the new construction. In addition, the building pays for itself well within its useful life of 100 years or more: At its 31-year mark, the City Hall East will save taxpayers $9.8 million dollars annually, and for the decades following, its uniquely sustainable design will minimize utility bills and operations and maintenance costs.

Designed to be a Living Building, the new facility will produce the energy and water it consumes on site and serve as a model of Santa Monica’s commitment to both fiscal and environmental sustainability. Utility costs will be saved over the life of the building and it will never have water or electric bills. The healthiest possible materials have been used in the construction of the new building, demonstrating Santa Monica’s commitment to public wellbeing. In delivering the work, local contractors and suppliers have seen the possibilities and benefits of a Living Building, with education and advocacy of green building solutions offered by the project leaders.

Taking advantage of the best and most sustainable options, the City of Santa Monica is leveraging existing resources by housing staff in its own resilient, green spaces designed for high functionality and long-term, low-cost ownership. This allows for greater return on investment and better service delivery from a 21st-century government leader. The City Hall East also fulfills a vision to bring core municipal business services into one City Hall Campus. By adding a modern building in the rear courtyard of City Hall, Santa Monica now offers a centralized hub for those public counter services.


By incorporating the unique water systems and numerous other sustainable strategies into their design model, the Santa Monica City Hall East team has shown that the project is on track to secure Living Building Challenge’s certification – a measurable achievement and shining example of sustainable design. As envisioned by city officials, the new structure is 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 Hall East 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.

For lasting impact on the environment and the future of Santa Monica, the new City Hall East reflects the policies, operations, and work environments that contribute to a better future for both human and environmental health. Tracking certification under the Living Building Challenge has allowed city leadership to benchmark current performance and set goals for the coming years. These initiatives will show how visionary policy, good government, and architecture and engineering contribute to fiscal responsibility, lower energy use, reduced operational challenges, and greater quality of life for workers and for all city dwellers alike.