The Phipps Conservatory welcome center
Pittsburgh's Phipps Conservatory is preparing to open one of the greenest buildings in the world. Built to meet the Living Building Challenge, the most stringent grading system for green buildings, the conservatory's new Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) will feature a lush green roof, a sprawling solar panel array, passive design, constructed wetlands, a lagoon system, and much more. A team of locally-based designers, engineers, and architects collaborated on the integrated design process of the 24,250 sq. ft. building, which is expected to exceed LEED Platinum certification. The stunning net-zero energy and water structure brings a new level of sustainable beauty to Phipps, mimicking nature and functioning as efficiently as a flower.
Quite impressively, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory is expected to meet or exceed the three toughest green building and landscape standards: the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum Certification, and the Sustainable Sites Initiative. Phipps has been going green for the last 17 years, and the CSL is the third major initiative under the direction of the conservatory’s Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini.
“This is pulling together everything we’ve been working on for the last several years,” says Piacentini. The CSL was created through an integrated design process with a team of professionals all from within the region. The Pittsburgh-based firm Design Alliance Architects headed the design team, with principal architect Chris Minnerly as the lead. All of the materials were sourced sustainably in the United States, and the passively-designed building will use 80 percent less energy than a typical office building of the same size thanks to building features like a green roof, abundant natural daylighting, efficient natural ventilation, and a high-performance building envelope.
Photo by Alexander Denmarsh, courtesy Phipps
As a net-zero energy and water structure, the CSL will produce as much energy as it uses through geothermal, solar, and wind sources, and it will offset its water usage by treating all wastewater and capturing rainwater on site. Fourteen geothermal wells will provide about 70 percent of the building’s heating and cooling energy from the ground’s consistent 57 degrees, and a vertical axis wind turbine, 378 rooftop solar panels, and 125 ground-mounted solar panels will provide the rest.
One of the most interesting features of the new building is the extensive water-treating system. Stormwater from the entire Phipps’ campus will be captured and stored in two 1,700 gallon cisterns to be used for toilets and maintenance, and a tranquil lagoon system will treat additional stormwater through a seven-step cleaning process that mimics the natural process of wetlands. The constructed wetlands will treat used or sanitary water, bringing it up to greywater standards to water the plants.
What water can not be stored in the 80,000 gallon tank will be pumped up to two 20,000 gallon tanks in Phipps’ greenhouses to water the plants. “Everything works in systems,” says Piacentini. “How can this waste be used as food for another system? How can the landscape be used to help the building?” Water usage was an extremely important part of the CSL, as the gardens consume millions of gallons every year — the CSL’s systems will save about 7 million gallons annually.
“The Living Building Challenge is a really great challenge,” says Piacentini. “It really forces you to think about how everything is related. If you work in one area, you are affecting everything else.”
The $23.5 million CSL was funded through a variety of local and national organizations, including Green Building Alliance, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, both Chatham and Duquesne universities, and private Phipps donors. The Design Alliance Architects were the principal on the project, with CJL Engineering providing the MEP Engineering, Andropogon designing the landscape, Atlantic Engineering Services completing the structural engineering, and Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. (CEC) working on the civil engineering. Evolve, LLC consulted on the LEED Certification, and 7group, LLC consulted on the energy use, daylighting, and materials. Massaro Corporation managed construction, while Turner Construction was the general contractor. You can find a full list of all companies involved here.
The CSL is currently under construction, and it is slated to open at the end of next month. An official opening ceremony will be hosted on May 23.