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Feb 21

Top 8 Smart Buildings from Around the World

Net Zero Energy Buildings, also referred to as Zero Energy Buildings, have garnered particular acclaim in recent years and set exciting new precedents for building performance. By definition, these buildings are designed to produce at least as much energy—if not not more—than they consume.

As impossible a feat as that may seem, building owners, tenants, and developers everywhere have taken on the challenge to build and retrofit commercial buildings with sustainable systems and smart, green technology in an effort to attain Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) status and comparable international certifications. Many are extending the definition even further by using other resources—like water, warm air, daylight, construction materials—more intelligently.

Let's take a look at 8 smart buildings from around the world that have gone net zero and beyond, finding the nexus between ecological integrity and human well-being.

1. Glumac in Shanghai, China

At first glance, engineering firm Glumac's 6,000 sq ft office in Shanghai, China, looks like just another modern workplace that gets a lot of light. But unlike its neighbors, this office was the first to apply for Living Building Challenge certification in Asia and is considered one of the most sustainable office spaces on the continent.

The Feature We Love:

It features an indoor air monitoring system that allows employees to see the toxicity of indoor air on their cell phones, based on monitored oxygen levels, volatile organic compound (VOC) levels, humidity, and particulate matter measurements. Fortunately for workers, Glumac has five air purification systems and a planted green wall to weed out the often-unbearable pollution outside the building.

2. DPR Construction in San Francisco, CA

DPR Construction’s San Francisco office is the first commercial office in the city to receive NZEB certification. DPR will continue to make additional improvements to the building with a goal of attaining net positive energy production. They also plan to replicate the project at market construction cost.

The Feature We Love:

Tricked out with photovoltaics (PV) panels, rooftop solar thermal water heating system, intelligent, electrochromic windows, ultra-energy efficient ceiling fans, and a living horticulture wine bar, it's hard to pick, but the feature we love most has to be that the building has the first-ever-deployed LEED dynamic plaque in Northern California.

3. The Bullitt Center in Seattle, WA

Urban ecology nonprofit The Bullitt Foundation set out to accelerate the pace of change in the building industry by building the "greenest commercial building in the world." While most buildings are developed with a 40-year life span in mind, the Bullitt Center was designed to have a 250-year lifespan.

The Feature We Love:

The Bullitt Center's features include net zero energy, net zero water, net zero carbon, composting toilets, toxic-free materials, and over 80% day light using high-performance windows— using only "off-the-shelf products" available to any building project. While the world's only six-story composting toilet system is impressive, even more impressive: 575 solar panels, proving that it is possible to go net zero energy via solar—even in Seattle!

4. Clover Network in Sunnyvale, CA

Originally a racquetball complex without windows, Clover Network's office in Sunnyvale underwent a massive transformation under the direction of "deep green engineering" firm Integral Group, to add windows and construct a new mezzanine with a large double-height space in the center. Additionally, the building was upgraded with electronically tinted glass, high volume fans, rooftop photovoltaic array and extensive insulation to achieve a net zero energy bill design.

The Feature We Love:

Eighty-six new smart windows that tint on demand and respond intuitively to outside conditions (that's a feat, considering the original racquetball court had no windows other than its entry doors).

5. NREL's Research Support Facility in Golden, Colorado

The Research Support Facility (RSF) on the main campus of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado is a showcase for sustainable, high-performance design that incorporates the best in energy efficiency, environmental performance, and advanced controls using a “whole building” integrated design process. The building serves as a model for cost-competitive, high energy performance commercial buildings for the nation’s design, construction, operation, and financing communities. The RSF is also a living laboratory for buildings technologies, providing real-time data that allows researchers to discover opportunities for improved performance.

The Feature We Love:

The building has a large thermal labyrinth under the two main office wings that passively redistributes heat from sunny south-facing facades and the building's data center into other parts of the building, dramatically lowering the cooling load of the data center year-round.

6. The Edge (Deloitte HQ) in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Dubbed the "The Smartest Building in the World" by Bloomberg, the building’s main tenant, consulting firm Deloitte, uses a smartphone app to optimize the efficiency and productivity of its employees. From automatically directing employees to an open parking spot for their cars to directing them to an open workstation, the app knows employees' preferences for light and temperature, and it tweaks the environment accordingly. The Dutch have a phrase for this: “het nieuwe werken:, or roughly, “the new way of working.” It’s about using information technology to shape both the way we work and the spaces in which we do it. It’s about resource efficiency in the traditional sense, and human efficiency.

The Edge is also the ­greenest building in the world, according to British rating agency BREEAM, which gave it the highest sustainability score ever awarded: 98.4 percent.

The Feature We Love:

Where do we even start with this one? The Edge features the world's most efficient aquifer thermal energy storage system, a water-efficient trickle-down, rainwater toilet water system, and a human powered gym! Our favorite feature though has to be sensors in the LED light panels, which report detailed temperature and humidity readings across a floor. A Deloitte survey found that while fewer than a quarter of employees actively use the app’s thermostat features, three-quarters say they love the transparency and control it offers.

7. Legion House at Liberty Place in Sydney, Australia

Located in the heart of Sydney’s Central Business District, Legion House is Heritage listed and protected due to its social significance as the original site of a YWCA for over 60 years. As part of its redevelopment, Legion House acquired an additional two levels (now five levels in total) along with state-of-the-art technology, making this building one of the most sustainable designs in the world. Legion House was certified by The Green Building Council of Australia with a 6-Star Green Star - Office v3 Design rating and is to be refurbished as a fully zero carbon building, demonstrating that it is possible for even historical buildings to go Net Zero.

The Feature We Love:

Air conditioning is provided throughout Legion House using chilled beam technology. The ventilation provided with the chilled beam system uses 100% fresh outside air to maintain a very high level of indoor environment quality for the occupants.

8. Glumac in Los Angeles, CA

Occupying the 23rd floor of the Aon Center, Glumac's Los Angeles office design is centered on the idea of collaboration and connectivity. The 17,500 sq ft open office plan design, developed by Gensler, allows for natural daylighting and encourages a collective work ethos. With a focus on Net Zero Energy, as well as the Site, Equity and Beauty Petals, the Glumac LA project is in the running to become the 2nd Living Building Challenge Petal Certified tenant improvement project in the world and the first of its kind in Los Angeles.

The Feature We Love:

Glumac utilizes a number of innovative green techniques that improve occupant comfort while reducing energy consumption, such as chilled sails and a whole building heat recovery retrofit, but our favorite feature has to be Comfy.


Years ago, architect, thought leader, and recipient of the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, William McDonough made the obvious—but now famous—statement that, “being less bad is not being good.” Architects, engineers, software developers, and real estate investors have all responded accordingly, coming together to work on exciting projects that are setting the bar higher for building performance. And the buck isn’t stopping at Net Zero.

The next generation smart buildings are reaching further to attain Net-Positive or “Regenerative” status and they’re using smart building technology to get there.These truly smart buildings will tackle issues beyond the ecological footprint, working to address every last need of the occupants inside, optimizing comfort, well-being, and productivity.

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