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Salvaged wood from deconstructed Pennsylvania barns was used as siding for the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. (Photograph by Denmarsh Photography, Inc.)

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 pre-reqs: 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.

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.

The geothermal heating and cooling system is expected to capture about 70 percent of its heating and cooling energy from the ground’s consistent 57°F temperature, while its heat pump refrigeration cycle (which stores water heated by the sun during the summer months for use in heating the building during the winter, via radiant heat, and vice versa in the summer) takes care of the rest.

Other uber-green features of the CSL include vertical-axis wind turbines, demand-controlled ventilation, and an integrated wetlands/living machine wastewater treatment system. When complete, the building will generate all of its own energy and treat all of its own wastewater on site.

“Designed and built by people from Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as an innovation for the world, the CSL will serve as a model for how reconnecting with nature can inspire an abundant and harmonious future,” says Phipps Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini, in a statement. “This addition will give visitors the opportunity to explore, find inspiration and immerse themselves in the beauty of green.”

— Susan Freitas

This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission. Thanks to Denmarsh Photography.