Two newly built office buildings in California are setting out to capture one of the state's most prized assets — sunlight. While very different in appearance, the CompuLaw building in West Los Angeles and the San Luis Obispo County Building are both designed to maximize the amount of natural light.

According to architects and owners, the hybrid structures provide not only an economic benefit, but a health benefit as well. “We are challenging the typical office building design where outer offices receive light, air and views, while workers in the inner offices spend their days in artificially lit enclosures,” says architect Jeffrey Kalban, designer of the 12,000 sq. ft. CompuLaw building. In practical terms, the owner saves $14,000 a year in electricity costs.

Officials in San Luis Obispo County, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, say they set out to build a cost-efficient building for this central coastal region famed for its wine country, according to Greg MacDougall, senior capital projects coordinator.

The resulting $30 million, 160,000 sq. ft. building, which opened officially in December, surpasses the state's mandatory energy-savings requirements by 30%.

Designed in a style that distantly recalls the Mission-style buildings in the city, the four-story Obispo County Building achieves its energy savings through the use of “high-mass” walls and raised floors. The walls absorb the cool, night-time temperatures, which helps chill the interior of the building during warm days on the central California coast.

To keep the sun from becoming too intense inside the county building, the architects used horizontal screens that deflect direct sunlight and glare, while “bouncing” indirect sunlight into the interiors. The presence of sunlight helps the skin produce vitamin D, which helps the body combat cancer, according to researchers from Harvard University.

The process of absorbing cool air and emitting it during the daytime is similar to traditional adobe structures that used the natural insulation of earthen bricks to keep interiors cool during warm days. During the night, the process works in reverse, and the massive walls absorb sunlight and release the heat hours later during the evening.

In crowded West Los Angeles, David Kallmick is completing construction on the 12,000 sq. ft. building for CompuLaw, a software designer and publisher. Kallmick wears two hats in the project. He is the developer of the family-owned parcel and is president and CEO of the software company.

The design of the CompuLaw building could be called a sun scoop. Like the San Luis Obispo building, vertical louvers shield the building and its inhabitants from direct sunlight. On the façade, architect Jeffrey Kalban of Los Angeles has fully exploited the sculptural potential of the big louvers.

While the louvers give the exterior a strong, even flashy, image, the interior is arguably more unusual because the ceiling height rises from about 8 feet at the elevator core to about 14 feet at the window wall. It's a shape that literally scoops sunlight into the 45-foot bay depth of the office floors. The combination of raised floors and the diminished need for artificial lighting will enable CompuLaw to achieve cost savings on several fronts.

Kallmick says his goal was to make a “jewel box” that would be an enjoyable place to work for employees. While the CompuLaw building is neither a “spec” project nor for sale, Kallmick says that he has been surprised by the response of the neighborhood. The developer says that he has already received a number of unsolicited offers from prospective buyers, “and we haven't even moved in yet.”