Pittsburgh, USA: Steel Town Turned Green Town

For a city more famous as the capital of the Rust Belt than the epicenter of sustainable development, Pittsburgh has been making some big green moves in recent years. From reclaiming its riverfronts via trails and parks to encouraging LEED-certified building and redevelopment, the city has managed to leverage a combination of public, private and non-profit funds to improve quality of life and attract jobs while cutting its carbon footprint. Oh, and did we mention that Pittsburgh is one of only three U.S. cities to have committed to carbon neutrality by 2030?

Architectural Record reports this southwestern Pennsylvania city has managed to turn a $124 million investment in a publicly accessible riverfront into $4 billion in corporate, public, nonprofit, and entertainment activity downtown. And while other regions in the state have struggled through the recession, southwestern Pennsylvania posted a job-growth rate of 3.9 percent between the first quarter of 2010 and the beginning of 2012, and now boasts more jobs than it did back in 2008. It’s also home to the nation’s highest percentage of adults with graduate degrees (alongside Washington, D.C.) per capita, attracted and supported by a local growth formula based on education and biotech.


Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes

image via ArchRecord / The Design Alliance

That formula is now branching out into green building. While the recently completed Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscapes may be the most iconic such building, satisfying as it does the deep-green standards set by the Living Buildings Challenge, the LEED-Platinum-certified Bakery Square — completed two years ago — offers a good picture of the greening of Pittsburgh as well. This red-brick complex, a former Nabisco factory, was redesigned by Pittsburgh-based Astorino, and has since found new life as a health club, hotel and retail space, not the mention the home of Google’s Pittsburgh office. In August of this year, developer Walnut Capital announced Bakery Square 2.0, a $120 million expansion with a master plan by Strada.

Pittsburgh also boasts the only convention center on the country with dual LEED certification: Gold for new construction and Platinum for operations.

Both the city and surrounding Allegheny County managed to keep the ball rolling on green building through the recession by laying out policies and incentives for LEED-certified buildings, if not actual cash. The Tower at PNC Plaza, the bank’s under-construction 33-story headquarters, is an example of this, and the city’s third major LEED project in the city core. This tower is planned to exceed Platinum standards, and boasts some unique features, including natural ventilation.
Tower at PNC Plaza

image via ArchRecord / Gensler

Gensler designed this high-rise around a steel structure that will be wrapped in a glazed double curtain wall that makes use of automated windows — nearly unheard the sky-scaper world, where windows, generally, remain permanently shut. Flaps on the interior of the windows will usher fresh air in when needed, while a solar chimney will escort hot air out during the summer months. This solar chimney is comprised of two shafts at the core of the building that will create a “controlled stack” effect, according Denzil Gallagher, principal at Buro Happold, the skyscraper’s structural and mechanical engineer. All told, the building will be able to rely on natural ventilation for 40 percent of its working hours, which, in turn, will cut its power bill considerably.

Another key piece of sustainable development planned for Pittsburgh include a 180-acre riverfront redevelopment based on a sustainable master plan developed by Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. Leveraging a $10 million grant from four local charities (including the ketchup-rich Heinz foundation) this development will include historical remnants of the former Jones & Laughlin steel mill in Hazelwood, about 3.5 miles east of downtown, as well as an extension of the existing riverfront trail.

Plans are also in the works, closer to downtown, to turn the 28-acres site of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins former arena, now demolished, into a sustainable neighborhood development incorporating 1,200 units of housing, office and retail space and parks, targeting LEED for Neighborhood Development certification.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 27, 2012


    Great article. It’s good to see PNC and Phipps get some recognition for the great work they have been doing. And if you want to learn more about Pittsburgh’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030 visit http://www.2030district.org/pittsburgh/

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