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Sustainability Showcase: Living in Harmony with Nature

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©2019 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, Winter 2019 Edition.

By Richard V. Piacentini

About the Author
Richard V. Piacentini is the president and CEO of Phipps Conservatory and past Chair of the International Living Future Institute™ (ILFI) and is a past president of the American Public Gardens Association (APGA).

The Center for Sustainable LandscapeS (CSL) is a 24,350-square-foot education, research and administration facility at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. The design team’s challenge was to meet an unprecedented palette of the world’s highest green standards while creating a facility that would serve a multitude of functions and seamlessly integrate with the guest experience of Phipps—a 125-year-old institution that receives over 450,000 visitors annually.
The intent of the CSL is to demonstrate the beauty of humanity living in harmony with nature. The design —shaped by systems thinking—reveals the interconnection between all natural and human-made systems so that visitors and society at large may better understand how each of our actions influence all others, ultimately inspiring everyone to live more sustainably.

By using a facilitated integrated design process, Phipps clearly established the vision, goals and targets for the project in collaboration with all principal architects, engineers, community members and staff. The resulting series of 15 charrettes aligned around this purpose and goals allowed the team to collectively build a roadmap to success and create interdisciplinary opportunities that otherwise would have been missed. The decision to use the Living Building Challenge as the project’s design standard—made at the outset of the process—guided Phipps and its partners toward a host of other certifications to define for themselves what the greenest building in the world should look like.

Designed to operate as efficiently and elegantly as a flower, the CSL challenges the perceived mutual exclusivity between built and natural environments, effectively blurring the line between the two. The sun, earth and wind are used to light, heat and cool the interior, plants clean wastewater for reuse and every occupied space affords views of nature. The stringent parameters required by the robust building certifications necessitated an integrative design process with well-defined goals shared by the entire design team and the owner. These “constraints” actually served as catalysts for creative and innovative solutions that define the forefront of sustainable design. The holistic approach used to bring this project to life and the exportable, behavior-changing education programs and original research being conducted within this space can be applied universally, creating communities that are healthier and more supportive of all life.

The CSL is the first facility in the world to meet four of the world’s highest green building standards: The Living Building Challenge™, awarded in March 2015; WELL Building Platinum, awarded in October 2014; Four-Stars Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) certification for landscapes, awarded in November 2013; and LEED® Platinum, awarded in August 2013. In addition, the CSL also received the International Living Future Institute’s Zero Energy Certification in 2014. The core function of the CSL is to increase awareness of the interconnection between the natural and built environment and the efficacy of sustainable systems. By employing a design that invites exploration, the CSL is uniquely positioned to showcase renewable energy technologies, conservation strategies, water treatment systems, non-toxic building materials and sustainable landscaping to a broad audience, including many engaging with these topics for the first time.

Energy Efficiency: From the Outside In

Working from the Living Building Challenge’s net zero energy imperative, the CSL design team quickly realized that the best strategy would be to reduce operating demand as much as possible by starting with outside-in passive strategies first in exploring every opportunity to minimize the building’s energy loads. Everything from building envelope and orientation to lighting, heating, cooling and employee comfort levels was taken into consideration to discover how much energy was truly needed to power the building.