In Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory And Botanical Gardens Hosts “Big Green Block Party”

The adaptive reuse of an on-site public works garage facility at Phipps is aimed at achieving three rigorous green building standard certifications.

In Pittsburgh, PA this week, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens unveiled the Exhibit Staging Center (ESC), a facility that showcases the latest advancements in green building technology. Formerly an old public works building, ESC was transformed from a dilapidated space on a former brownfield into a safe, healthy environment for people, plants and animals.

Founded in 1893, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a globally recognized green leader with a mission to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; and to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research. The Phipps site encompasses 15 acres including a historic 14-room glasshouse, 23 indoor and outdoor gardens, and sustainable architecture and operations.

May 16, 2019 marked the opening of the ESC, as over 500 attendees were among the first to tour the state-of-the-art facility at the Big Green Block Party event.

Phipps committed to adaptive re-use of the ESC’s space with the goal of achieving three rigorous building standard certifications: International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, and WELL Platinum. Upon successful completion of Living Building Challenge’s one-year performance period, Phipps will have three Living and Petal Certified Buildings on its site.

“We are excited to introduce our newest green building to the world,” stated Richard Piacentini, president and CEO of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. “The Exhibit Staging Center demonstrates that the greenest, healthiest buildings can be ones that already exist, transforming an old cinderblock building into one of groundbreaking sustainability. The building will not have a heating, cooling, electricity or sewer bill and, most importantly, will improve the health and well-being of our maintenance staff who work in and guests who visit here. Phipps is dedicated to showing that sustainable practices are good for people and the planet, and the Exhibit Staging Center is another way we are demonstrating this commitment.”

green building certification
The Exhibit Staging Center was the site of Phipps public’ works garage, a 1960s-era building constructed from block wall masonry on a remediated brownfield.

Amanda Sturgeon, CEO of the International Living Future Institute, said, 

“Phipps Conservatory has been a world leader in creating Living Buildings, now with their third project undertaking the Living Building Challenge. These projects are a demonstration for Pittsburgh and beyond that it is possible to create a Living Future for all.”

The Exhibit Staging Center introduces a first-of-its-kind nexus of green buildings at Phipps, featuring three different types of construction — new (Center for Sustainable Landscapes), modular (Nature Lab), and existing (ESC) buildings — serving as a real world model and idea resource for guests from around the world.

Maintenance staff and grounds crew, a group whose well-being is often overlooked, will be the primary occupants of the ESC, which is designed to ensure that the health and well-being of all staff members is a top priority. To enhance the guest experience, the ESC will be open to visitors for a behind-the-scenes look at the Conservatory’s past and future flower shows. Guests can enter a vestibule to see future display props being constructed, and an adjacent window will provide views of historic topiaries and props from past show displays. With additional features including a yoga studio and fitness center, Phipps’ ESC aims to set a standard for healthy existing buildings.

Radiant flooring is used throughout the facility to ensure temperature stability and comfort of building occupants. (Photo: Rob Larson Photography)

Sustainable features of the ESC include:

  • The ESC’s project site, a remediated brownfield, has been restored as a safe environment for people, plants and animals.
  • The facility is designed to generate all of the energy it uses each year and capture and manage all stormwater that falls onsite.
  • With geothermal wells buried into the ground, the building is able to efficiently heat and cool the facility by harnessing the natural energy from the earth’s consistent 55-degree internal temperature.
  • The roof of the ESC is home to photovoltaic solar panels, which capture the sun’s energy to convert to electricity.
  • The DC Difference: Direct current (DC) electricity is the form of electricity collected by solar panels and stored by their batteries, but most American buildings use alternating current (AC). In conventional settings, a device called a solar inverter is converts the DC electricity from solar panels into AC, wasting 10% to 15% of solar energy in the process of converting to AC and then back to DC again to power LED light bulbs. The ESC breaks this wasteful convention by using direct DC from the solar panels and batteries to all of the lights in the building. That means the entire lighting system for this building could run on a single 20-amp circuit.
  • The lagoon adjacent to the ESC is used to store rainwater and replicate the natural treatment processes of marshes and wetlands on site.
  • Chemical-free sanitary water is recycled and treated through a constructed wetland that uses natural plants and microbes, as well as sand filters and UV lights.
  • A green roof over the ESC’s vestibule helps manage stormwater.
  • Biophilic design elements and art celebrating the bonds between humans and nature add to the healthy impacts of the building on occupants and guests.
  • The ESC’s vegetative green screen wall further enhances the building’s biophilic connection.
  • The use of Declare label products, along with the avoidance of Living Building Red List materials, means the building is free from many of the toxic chemicals typically found in building materials.

green building certificationESC project partners working with Phipps are: FortyEighty Architecture, Common Ground, Iams Consulting, LLC, Studio Phipps, Massaro Corporation, Shepley Bulfinch, Karl Steinmetz Designs, Building Performance Architecture, CJL Engineering, and 7group.