Phipps Conservatory to build new green center

By Ryan Shaughnessy

The Phipps Conservatory is about to build a large — and notably green — expansion near… The Phipps Conservatory is about to build a large — and notably green — expansion near Pitt’s campus.

The $8.1-million Center for Sustainable Landscapes is planned to be one of only a few “living buildings” in the world. That means it will consume zero net energy, produce zero water waste and will try to achieve the three highest certifications for green design. The Conservatory — already free to Pitt students — should open the new center by December 2011.

The plans say that the new center will serve as a teaching tool for other green building designs in the future.

“We want to show people that the technology exists now to integrate buildings into the landscape in an environmentally friendly manner,” Phipps Conservatory director Richard Piacentini said.

This new 24,350-square foot Center for Sustainable Landscapes will be adjacent to Phipps’ Tropical Rainforest facing Panther Hollow in Schenley Park.

According to the site plans, created by The Design Alliance Architects and provided by Deborah McGuire, executive assistant to the Phipps Conservatory, the new center will use the most cutting-edge technologies to maximize sustainability.

The center will achieve net zero energy through technologies like solar photovoltaic arrays atop adjacent buildings to capture energy from the sun and generate electricity, along with vertical-axis wind turbines to generate electricity when wind is more than 2 miles per hour, according to the design plan.

It will produce zero water waste through technologies like rainwater harvesting, which captures storm water from the roofs and lower sites and stores it in underground tanks for use, and a lagoon system, which captures storm water runoff and replicates the natural water treatment process.

Piacentini said the building will help solidify Pittsburgh’s ranking as one of the United States’ greenest cities.

Eden Brukman, vice president of the International Living Building Institute, said that construction of new buildings should reach for more, like Phipps. The Living Building Institute runs the “Living Building Challenge,” which calls for more environmentally friendly construction.

“What if every single act of design and construction would make the world a better place?” Brukman said in a phone interview this week.

Besides “living” status, the plans call for the center to be LEED certified and SITES landscaping certified.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design, is the second-highest standard for green architectural design, recently upped by the new Living Building Challenge. SITES can be thought of as a LEED certification for landscaping, Piacentini said.

According to LEED’s website, LEED Platinum Certification is voluntary and provides third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in areas such as energy savings, water efficiency and carbon-dioxide emissions reduction.

“I think the CSL will definitely spread environmental awareness to Pitt students,” said Pitt junior Matt Tamrowski. “It will show people the effects our current world is having on the environment as opposed to the reduced effects of this new technology.”

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