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World’s Most Gorgeous Sewage Treatment Plant Will be Put INSIDE an Office Building

a living machine sustainable wastewater treatment system will be constructed in the new SFPUC buildingA new office building for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is going to be home to a whole raft of green building technologies that are becoming pretty familiar, along with something a little unexpected: a beautifully disguised “green” sewage treatment plant right plunk in the middle of the lobby. Talk about hiding in plain sight! The installation, designed by the company Worrell Water Technologies, is integrated into the lobby design as well as exterior landscaping.

Constructed Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment

The installation is basically a constructed wetland, which is a wastewater treatment system that breaks down pollutants with plants and naturally occurring  biological processes. The result isn’t necessarily potable quality, but it’s good enough for irrigation, maintenance, and other res-uses such as toilet flushing. Constructed wetlands save a significant amount of energy compared to conventional treatment, and they can be used as an energy-efficient way to clean up sites contaminated with industrial pollutants. Constructed wetlands have the characteristics of a natural wetland, so they also double as wildlife habitats.

Constructed Wetlands Knocking at the Door

Worrell Water’s contribution is to move the concept into lush, formal landscaping for buildings through its “Living Machine” system.  The system uses a series of carefully engineered steps that mimic tidal flows, compressing natural decomposition into a fast, tightly controlled operation that can fit into a relatively small area.  That opens up some interesting possibilities for outdoor landscaping, such as the new walkway planned for one of the busiest border crossings in the U.S., which will take visitors on a pleasant stroll a through a Living Machine constructed wetland. But, why stop at the front door – Worrell has also introduced the system partly indoors, one stunning example being the tony El Monte Sagrado resort.

The New San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Building

Siting a Living Machine at a sprawling resort is one thing, but putting the concept to work at a high-rise building in a densely packed urban area presents quite a challenge. The PUC expects to save about 750,000 gallons of water yearly and produce another 900,000 gallons of treated water that can be use for non-potable purposes. Energy to run the system will come from the building’s solar cladding and wind turbines. If it proves adaptable and cost efficient, it could fit right in with President Obama’s new Better Buildings energy efficiency initiative, so stay tuned.

Image: Water lily by therealbrute on

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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