When it was time to design on a new building on an old public works yard, the initial thought was to tear the existing building down. With block walls and no windows, the 1960s structure was not the kind of building most would associate with sustainable design. The owners recognized, however, that the greenest building is one that already exists. Given the amount of old building stock in Pittsburgh, it was important to show that one could take a dilapidated eyesore and turn it into one of the greenest buildings in the world. Since the primary occupants would be maintenance staff, who tend to get some of the worst buildings, the team focused on occupant health. In 2019, the public garden opened the reimagined building as the Exhibit Staging Center (ESC) with a dynamic, modernized design.
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Exhibit Staging Center
Sustainable Architecture Built
Phipps Conservatory, Common Ground, Iams Consulting
©Paul g. Wiegman
Previously, the 3-acre lower campus site was a public works yard, paved over with portions classified as brownfield due to leaking USTs. There were no existing natural covers and stormwater runoff was impacting the adjacent park. Phipps began addressing the dilapidated site in 2012 with the opening of Center for Sustainable Landscapes, the only building in the world to achieve five of the highest green construction certifications: Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, WELL Platinum, SITES Platinum and BREEM Outstanding. This was followed with the Nature Lab at Phipps (2015), a modular classroom that is ILFA petal-certified. With these projects and the ESC, the renovated site can now manage a 10-year storm event using soil and vegetation-based systems including green roofs, rain gardens and laggons The biodiverse native plantings provide food and shelter for native wildlife. Visitors can learn about the beauty and benefits of native plant communities, green infrastructure and its role in improving local water quality while encountering wildlife, both terrestrial and aquatic.
Building occupants and visitors benefit from ESC’s features, too. The team avoided Living Building Red List materials, which contain chemicals designated as harmful. The building houses an exhibit fabrication workshop, grounds maintenance, storage rooms and office space, and a yoga studio, meditation room and fitness center available to all staff.
The owner and design team used integrated design to engage various stakeholders and to align all team members around the same goals. Entities as wide-ranging as staff, community members, the office of the mayor, the city planning department, the health department, the water and sewer authority, local development committees and the Department of Environmental Protection were invited to participate in a series of design charrettes. This process enabled the team to consider how prospective project elements might relate to one another for maximum ecological harmony and efficiency, refining concepts and developing designs to support the project’s holistic success while affirming the values and needs of the region’s residents and environment.
Exploring the ESC today, visitors experience beauty at sustainability’s cutting edge. The garden’s nearly half a million annual guests can learn about high performance buildings and understand that they are beautiful and comfortable places to live, learn, work and play.