World’s Greenest Building Might Be In Pittsburgh

Back in November, we brought you word that the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh was taking on the deep green challenge set by the Pacific Northwest’s arm of the U.S. Green Building Council and the International Living Building Institute. Now we’ve got specs in our hot little hands for the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes, set to open this spring, and man-oh-man, is there any green building strategy in the known universe this building doesn’t showcase?

Sure, it’s got all those green build prereqs: a high-performance building envelope, low-e windows, and an impressive amount of insulation, as well as natural daylighting and smart-control building/occupant sensors. Low-flow faucets and fixtures, check; solar power, check; solar thermal (hot water system), check. You’ll also find recycled/sustainably sourced materials throughout, a green roof, native/drought resistant landscaping, and a rainwater harvesting system.

Phipps_Photovoltaics_Center for Sustainable Landscapes

image via Phipps/Paul Wiegman

But this is pretty much where comparisons between the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) and the majority of green build projects we cover begins to break down. Because this building goes further—much further.

The local architects at The Design Alliance started their planning by focusing heavily on passive solar design (coupled with the thermal properties of the building’s walls and floors) to do much of the work in heating and cooling the building, as per the Passive House philosophy, which holds that—if a building were efficient enough—it could effectively be heated with a candle. In this case, the building will be heated via a ground-source pump tied into a virtual gopher-empire of goethermal pipes and wells, but only after two other, less energy-intensive systems have reached their max capacities.

Those two other systems are a rooftop energy recovery unit (which recognizes when the air outside the building is cooler or warmer than temps within, and exchanges air between the two when conditions are advantageous) coupled with a desiccant wheel that utilizes energy that would otherwise be exhausted from the building to pre-treat temperature and moisture in incoming outside air with minimal energy use and without the use of mechanical refrigeration. All of which is part of what the building’s design team terms an “Outside-In, Passive-First” strategy.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

1 Comment

  • Reply April 14, 2012

    T. Lester

    “Officially” , this article is filler or a place-holder for real information. Where is it??? It m-i-g-h-t be in Pittsburgh, but the author is not going to say for sure. Only tease.
    Is there anything the building doesn’t show case? Dunno – maybe yes, maybe no.
    The bait and tease article does provide links to real information, which is nice.

    Still, it’s difficult to trust a tease.

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