Swig and Project Frog Partnership Born Out of Need for Innovative, Sustainable Office Space

The Swig Co., San Francisco, Project Frog, Oakland, Building Robotics, San Francisco real estate, Bay Area news, HVAC system, Comfy heating, Lutron lighting
registry-Boyer and Hand
Boyer (L) and Hand (R)

By Robert Carlsen

What began as a ground-floor overhaul to prep a new tenant space in a classic South of Market commercial building turned into a “living laboratory” complete with a showcase for new and innovative energy savings systems.

[contextly_sidebar id=”d40d0f2bd9eb01db55b982276d50acdb”]The recent unveiling of the space at 501 Second Street in San Francisco by the building’s owner and manager, The Swig Co. LLC, and new tenant, Project Frog, illustrates the ingredients of sustainable lighting and other energy efficiency systems and how they are affecting the building’s energy grid.

The idea of this unusual owner/tenant pilot partnership grew out of a discussion with Deborah Boyer, senior vice president-asset management for The Swig Co., and Ann Hand, CEO of Project Frog, a company that produces ready-to-assemble “smart” buildings that was looking for new headquarters space. A “tinker lab” workshop was built in Project Frog’s 13,000-square-foot office space where visitors can watch its staff design, prototype or fabricate building components using state-of-the-art software or the company’s new 3D printer.

“The concept evolved from a plan to utilize in the office-build some of the materials/systems Frog typically uses in its component building construction,” said Boyer. “In our discussions, it rapidly became clear that our companies were focused on the same things, albeit in different product types, and that there was opportunity for us to learn from each other.”

501 2nd Street
501 2nd Street

501 Second Street (between Bryant and Brannan streets) was originally constructed in 1925, and it consists of seven stories spanning 207,800 square feet. Current tenants also include International Data Group (IDG)/PC World, Salesforce.com, VMware and WRNS Studio. Its open floor plans and abundant windows allow for natural daylight streaming through 80 percent of the building, according to Swig.

Key elements of the space upgrade project include installation of Lutron automated shades with digitally addressable dimming LED drivers that maximize interior daylighting and minimize need for electric light.

Other lighting elements include Project Frog’s Latana Luminaries LED lighting system. “When we searched for affordable and stylish LED fixtures to integrate into our building kit, we came up empty-handed, so we designed and fabricated our own,” said Hand. “Once Lantana received its UL (Underwriters Laboratories) certification (for new electric technologies), we were able to offer them up to all of our clients and install them in our office, too.”

Also installed was the Comfy heating and cooling system that uses a cloud-based web interface. Manufactured by two-year-old startup Building Robotics of Oakland, the system was designed by an interdisciplinary group of engineers led by computer scientists Andrew Krioukov and Stephen Dawson-Haggerty. According to Lindsay Baker, vice president of research and marketing, she and the founders met while working on their PhDs at UC Berkeley. She said the firm connected with Swig via one of its investors, Peter Rumsey, a prominent mechanical engineer also based in Oakland. Essentially, Comfy allows building occupants to personally interact with the HVAC system via a mobile device. Users can click on “warm my space” or “cool my space” after pinpointing their current location within the building.

Though Swig is studying the cost of the new product investment in the Frog space with long-term benefits both quantitative and qualitative (potential energy savings, operational efficiencies, enhanced tenant experience and wellness), Boyer said that in some cases it does make sense to upgrade an existing building’s infrastructure in conjunction with implementation of new technology, though every situation must be reviewed separately. The Comfy system, for example, was selected because of its compatibility with the existing VAV system and controls. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ with existing buildings,” she said. “Our portfolio buildings are all unique and a product that works well at 501 Second Street may not be appropriate for another property.”

And even though the building recently received LEED platinum certification, Boyer said Swig’s goal is to move even beyond what they have established with energy savings so far. But, achieving the ultimate finish line of net-zero energy in such an older, existing building “is an ambitious goal that may not be achievable in the near-term, but the dynamic process in which we are deeply engaged continues to drive sustainability throughout our portfolio.”

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