Pittsburgh is currently embroiled in a desperate plan to frack under the city's struggling International Airport - but elsewhere in the city this beautiful project shows that we don't need to destructively harvest natural gas to power our buildings. A village of local designers, planners, scientists and other advisors developed the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at the Phipps Observatory, which harnesses geothermal, wind, and solar, as well as a suite of brilliant energy capture systems that ensure no energy goes to waste. Designed to function "as efficiently as a flower," the center meets sustainable design's most stringent performance standards. It's not easy to meet the International Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge, but the magnificent green-roofed community and educational center was awarded the institute's prestigious Net Zero Energy Building Certification in February, 2014. It's a big deal, and demonstrates that holistic ecological design combined with clean technology makes so much more sense than the shortsighted use of dangerous extractive energy sources.
If you think of the greenest building imaginable, then you are imagining what Phipps’ CSL is like. In addition to relying on numerous clean energy sources for its power, such as geothermal, wind, and solar, it embraces cutting edge energy capture technology to slash waste. Energy conservation may not be as sexy as the center’s vertical axis wind turbine or its rooftop solar array, but it does help us to use what precious fuels we do have in the most sparing, respectful way possible. Part of a $23 million plan to expand the Phipps Observatory, which if you haven’t gone showcases some of the most exotic and fascinating botanical collections in the world, the building is completely net-zero water as well. This means that through wastewater recycling and rainwater harvesting, CSL is able to run all of its operations, including its plumbing, without using city water – and this includes its award-winning rehabilitated brownfield landscape, which features 150 non-invasive local plant species.
The green roof is great for preventing harmful runoff and improving the atrium’s interior microclimate, as well as other surprising uses. “Extensive green roof design with a 8″ soil depth and a variety of plants [were] selected for their medicinal, culinary and biofuel uses,” writes Phipps on their website. Walking throughout the rooftop garden, which has pathways in addition to so many verdant plants, it’s hard to believe you’re on a roof. The constructed wetland, which uses plants to filter waste water while providing a healthy environment at the same time, is another major highlight of this design. When the rain subsided on the day we were there, nothing was more peaceful than sitting quietly on one of the benches adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant. You certainly couldn’t do this at a standard municipal treatment plant – at least not happily.
Last week, local news reported that Pittsburgh is considering a plan to frack underneath its international airport, which has been struggling, in order to extract enough energy for one and a half years. Doesn’t this seem so short-sighted in comparison to this project, where energy is renewable, where wind, solar and geothermal sources can produce up to 133,301 kWh each year? While this is a small scale project limited by the plot that Phipps owns, scaled up wouldn’t this make so much more sense in the long term than a method of extracting energy that is known to cause earthquakes and pollute our water? If you’re in Pittsburgh, which is about as surprising a city as we’ve ever known, stop by Phipps. It really is the city’s greatest green pride.
Images via Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat