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Beyond Green: ‘Living’ Building Blooms

Thursday, January 3, 2013

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Designed to function as efficiently as a flower, Pittsburgh’s new Center for Sustainable Landscapes is equipped with a plethora of green technologies, including a robust building envelope and low-VOC coatings.

Nestled on the campus of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the structure has set the bar high for green buildings nationwide, with a mission to meet the highest green building and landscape standards.

Photos: Denmarsh Photography Inc.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, PA, is billed as one of the world's first certified living buildings, a model of sustainability for architects and planners. The center features a green roof.

The net-zero, 24,350 square-foot education, research and administration complex is set to open to the public early this year, according to a Phipps spokesperson.

The $14.5 million project was designed by The Design Alliance Architects, of Pittsburgh, and Andropogon Associates, a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm. It was constructed by Turner Construction Company. Many of the materials used to build the facility were manufactured locally.

Off the Energy Grid

Designed to mimic nature, the center generates all of its own energy using a vertical axis wind turbine, photovoltaic solar panels, and geothermal wells.

The building also takes advantage of passive cooling, heating and lighting methods.


Low-VOC finishes were used throughout the building, according to project details.

“Total annual energy consumption, per square foot, is projected to be 80 percent less than an average office building and 63 percent less than an average household,” according to project documents.

Advanced Building Envelope

The structure’s exterior cladding system consists of a metal and glass curtain wall featuring Kawneer 1600 Wall System and PPG Industries’ insulated glass units, according to a product list provided by Phipps.


The cladding also features reclaimed barn siding from deconstructed Western Pennsylvania barns. The building’s moisture barrier is Tyvek Commercial Wrap.

Low-VOC interior paints, stains and coatings, manufactured by PPG Architectural Coatings, were also used throughout the facility.

Green Goals

On-site lagoons, a green roof, permeable paved surfaces, a water distillation system, and wetlands were designed to capture, treat and reuse all water on site.

The sustainable landscape features nine different plant communities that provide habitat for wildlife.


The project team seeks LEED Platinum certification and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) certification for landscapes. The center is also expected to meet the Living Building Challenge of the International Living Future Institute.

As defined by the International Living Building Institute (ILBI), a "living building" reaches the highest possible standards of sustainability in seven areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.

A living building is informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water on site, and operates efficiently.

‘Connecting Plants, People and Planet’

“As part of our mission to highlight important connections between plants, people and the planet, Phipps is deeply committed to making our buildings and operations as sustainable as possible, setting a new standard for nonprofits and businesses worldwide,” said Richard V. Piacentini, a visionary behind Phipps’ green transformation.

Built by Henry W. Phipps in 1893, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has evolved from the nation’s first teaching conservatory to a strong advocate for advanced green-building practices, sustainable gardening and a new environmental awareness.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Energy efficiency; Green building; Green design; LEED; Low-VOC; Sustainability

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