When developers first began to construct buildings with sophisticated electronics several years ago, such so-called "smart" buildings were hailed as the wave of the future.

A look at the market, however, indicates that the wave hasn't hit yet.

Despite the strong push from people selling equipment for shared telecommunications, integrated building services and central in-house computers, developers and leasing agents say that the majority of office tenants do not need, or want, a smart building.

"Obviously, many tenants have high-technology demands. But what they want is the capacity to wire the buildings themselves or to put their own satellite dish on the roof, not to have the developer do it for them," said Lois Zambo, corporate vice president of Julian J. Studley Inc., an office leasing firm. "Smart has never been a selling point. The only factor which has swayed a tenant is whether they can move their telecommunications equipment into a building."

Like many other potential advances of the technological age, say leaders in the intelligent buildings industry, smart buildings nationwide failed to take off as predicted. There are still only an estimated 100 to 300 such buildings around the country today, depending on the definition of "smart."

Smart buildings vary widely. They can be as complex as a California building that is programmed to open its gates at a certain hour, water its lawn and wash its own windows.

Most smart buildings, however, have only three basic functions: They are wired to handle computer functions and telecommunications, as well as automating building functions, such as lighting, air conditioning, heating and security. A "partially smart" building, like some of the Charles E. Smith buildings in Crystal City, offer only a portion of these services.

"Ten years ago, there was zero demand" for smart buildings, said John Kyle, a principal of Vector Realty. "But we see increased demand for buildings that will handle telecommunications and computer equipment."

He cited the National Science Foundation, which wants its new building wired to handle computer equipment. The foundation is currently in a 22-year-old building. "The ducts are completely filled up with wires," Kyle said. "They need subfloor wiring to handle 1,300 interactive computer units."

Despite the sparse demand, however, a handful of smart and partially smart buildings in Washington have been built and are holding their own in the leasing market, leasing agents and industry representatives said.

In particular, large tenants -- defense contractors and high-tech firms -- have emerged as the tenants most likely to demand smart buildings, surprising developers who had predicted the demand would come from small tenants.

Industry experts reasoned that small tenants, unable to afford expensive telecommunications and computer equipment, would be interested in sharing the services.

However, many small tenants seem to be unaware of such options as shared services, and a 1985 study by Touche Ross found that many small tenants distrusted estimates of the reliability and cost of such services.

One Texas company, Sharetech, which had high hopes of attracting small tenants to such technology, failed in 1986.

Sharetech, a joint venture between AT&T and United Technologies Corp., was set up in 1984 to market shared-information services to tenants and developers in several cities.

The company contracted with developers to provide shared services to tenants. Sharetech owned the word processors and terminals, and tenants paid monthly charges for their use. Sharetech provided telecommunications, office automation systems and staff to service the equipment. Tenants could access the systems by paying a monthly charge. At one point, the company was serving 50 large office buildings across the country.

However, only about half of the tenants in the automated buildings accepted the services. In 1986, when Sharetech was disbanded, only seven of its original 18 projects were operating. Ken Fancher, who was chairman of Sharetech and is now owner of Sharetech's offspring, Intelliserve, said, "Sharetech didn't realize how small most of their tenants are. An eight-person office just doesn't need that {automation} capacity."

"Generally, in the downtown area, a smart building will come about only if a lead tenant has some say in the actual specifications of the building," said Stephen Lauble, a researcher with Barnes, Morris & Pardoe, a Washington office leasing company. Among small tenants, he said, "the demand is only there when we tell them they can have this option."

Leasing agents said that one problem is that many tenants are concerned about keeping files and conversations confidential if they share computer and telecommunications equipment with other offices in the same building.

The primary feature of smart buildings that tenants care about is increased comfort, said Zambo. "Elevators programmed to stop only at tenant floors after hours, the most sophisticated of heating and air conditioning systems -- comfort is a selling point," she said.

As a speaker at a recent Intelligent Buildings Conference put it, looking around the convention center room where other participants shivered in the air conditioning, "This must be a dumb building."

Some nations, such as Japan, have embraced smart building technology, with buildings featuring such technology as fiber optic cables that draw sunlight into a building, filter out harmful rays and provide light to the interior of the building, or urinals that turn themselves off when no one is using them. Many of these buildings, however, were built by corporations for their own use.

In the United States, where most buildings are leased, it is up to the developer to create a building that is "smart," and the expense of creating such a building on speculation is often difficult to justify.

"There have been instances where a project either folds or does not attain the profit levels the owner or developer wanted," said Chester Barton, president of the International Intelligent Buildings Association.

Some smart buildings in the area, however, have been a success. TRW Federal Systems Group, a defense contractor, has constructed its own smart building in Fairfax, with full internal telecommunications, computer-controlled mechanical systems and its own computer system.

"Traditionally, these groups have adapted buildings to their needs but now find it very expensive and very inefficient," said Larry Sauer, director of design for HOK, the architects of TRW's building. "Developers are building smart buildings for tenants like the government and the telecommunications industry."

Patricia Terry, vice president and manager of Studley's Maryland office, said she is aware of a few smart buildings in the suburbs that were leasing with the market and added that smart buildings appear to give the developer a competitive edge. Terry noted that the Air Rights building in Bethesda, which is 95 percent leased, "has had an awful lot of success with telecommunications."

The Air Rights building was automated in 1985. Tenants can plug into voice mail (a talking computer that operates like a sophisticated answering machine), a Wang mainframe computer, telex, facsimile, and relatively inexpensive long-distance phone service through fiber optics cables.

Tenants in only 200,000 square feet of the approximately 900,000 square feet in the complex are currently using the "smart" services. John R. Freeland, president of the Air Rights Communications Center, said that while almost all of the new tenants have opted for smart features, those already in place did not. "It will take several years to penetrate the building to its maximum," he said.

One failed experiment at the Air Rights building was a smart conference room. It included seating for 20 to 30 people around a table that could accommodate about 10 phones and computers. A projection screen and kitchen were also available.

However, tenants never used the projection screen, said Freeland. They brought videotape players and televisions. The phone and computer hookups were useful but, even so, the space was only used about a quarter of the time.

"It was an attractive facility, but expensive and hard to justify," said Freeland. The conference room is now used by the adjacent Guest Quarters Hotel, which offers the services to its tenants.

Many developers and tenants don't appear to understand the potential of automated buildings, said Terry. "It's still a case of educating the tenants."