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SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA-San Luis Obispo County officials have opened a new $26 million county building that incorporates elements designed to improve energy efficiency and productivity, according to KMD Architects, designers of the 160,000–sf downtown office building. Greg MacDougall, senior capital projects coordinator for the county, says the complex was planned from its inception to be functional, cost-effective and distinctive.

The new county building houses departments in the main four-story building plus an attached, one-story circular structure hosting county supervisor meetings and other public events. Among the design elements that aims to reduce the cost of operating the building is a raised floor that helps to reduce the cost of regulating the building temperature.

David Hobstetter, a principal at KMD, explains that the raised floor enables the building to take advantage of the region’s cool climate. First, the hollow spaces circulate lower-temperature night air that is absorbed into the concrete floors and mass of the building. Additionally, the raised floors contain the building’s electrical, plumbing and other conduit systems, creating a more efficient use of space.

The raised floor and other design features of the new government center “helped the building beat the state’s energy-efficiency requirements by 30%,” according to Hobstetter. Mark Redmond of Ted Jacobs Engineering notes that the raised floor employs the same principle as historic Mission adobe buildings whose mass cooled overnight for the benefit of occupants during the day.

The design also capitalizes on San Luis Obispo’s sunny weather by strategically placing windows and glass walls. Light screens and horizontal light shelves bounce sunlight into rooms while shading out the sun’s heat, and automatic light switches turn off lights during the day, further decreasing the building’s energy demand.

Hobstetter explains that the advent of air conditioning has led designers to rely more on artificial light, which leads to buildings with large floor plates and interior spaces far from windows. However, “Dozens of research studies now provide compelling evidence of the intuitive understanding that the mind and body operate better with appropriate exposure to sunlight,” he says.

The county has installed three electrical co-generators across the street to serve existing buildings and the new facility. The high-efficiency system, combined with a $500,000 rebate from the state Public Utilities Commission, is expected to yield savings in electricity costs of between 45% and 55%.

KMD Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz) is based in San Francisco, was established in 1963 and operates from eight offices in four countries. Among its other L.A.-area projects is Two Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

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