Living Building Visits | Pittsburgh

After fall break, our studio traveled as a group to Pittsburgh, PA to visit multiple sites including two Living Certified Buildings – The Frick Environmental Center and Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes.  At each location we were given a guided tour of the facilities with the opportunity to learn more about the systems and spaces.  Although it was helpful to ask questions about energy and water systems on site, I found the experience of moving around the different spaces most helpful.  Sometimes I spend so much time researching and learning about a topic that I feel I know it when, I have never actually seen any of these processes or spaces extensively except on paper or a screen.  Traveling to multiple LBC sites was inspiring and grounding.  I feel that the experiences added validity to my work and helped me more completely understand my objective.

Frick Environmental Canter

The Frick Environmental Center is a welcome facility, education hub, and gateway to Frick Park. Free and open to all, this cutting-edge facility enhances visitor experience and inspires learners to discover one of Pittsburgh’s largest parks.  The Frick Environmental Center provides families, students, and learners of all ages with a state-of-the-art space for hands-on, experiential environmental education. The Center serves as the classroom base for programming that extends into the surrounding park woodlands, streams, meadows and trails.
— Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburg

I really enjoyed visiting the Frick Center. After researching the project, I was excited to explore it in real life. I think this is an excellent example of a project that blends outdoor and indoor programs. The primary circulation along the south end of the site transverses directly through the building on its top floor. (See diagram below) I think this design works well because the Frick Center is a public space. The organization creates an inviting way to channel people through the building.

frick diagram.jpg

Another aspect of this project that I enjoyed, is the way the building is nested into the hillside. Our tour guide mentioned that it was one of the origional goals for the project that the building would not be a dominate feature in the landscape. Because of the historical nature of the site, it was important to the design team to maintain existing views that draw people into the forest and surrounding meadows. Building into the hillside also has LBC implications. This technique reduces the amount of energy required to heat and cool the building because it has less exposed surface area.

frick sketch section.jpg

One of the spaces that inspired me is the waterfall area outside of the building. Sandstone is cut to mimic the natural forms of a creek bottom (sketch bellow) while conveying water away from the building and into the constructed wetland area. With a similar condition on our project site, I think there is an opportunity to create a similar condition in our teams design.

frick sketch.jpg

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes


The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens generates all of its own energy and treats all storm and sanitary water captured on-site. As Phipps’ education, research and administration facility, the CSL is an integral part of the Phipps visitor experience as a “living museum,” focusing attention on the important intersection between the built and natural environments, and demonstrating that human and environmental health are inextricably connected.
— Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

At the Phipps Center, our group received a comprehensive tour of the grounds, facilities, and systems. I was particularly struck by the landscape and planting design to the East of the building. This area included a steep slope, ending in a lagoon and backwater treatment area. In the diagram below, I highlighted the circulation paths. I am interested in this part of the project because our site also has drastic elevation change that we may need to navigate with accessible paths. I think this network with steps and ramps could serve as a helpful precedent moving forward.

circulation diagram phipps.jpg

Moving forward, I am excited to read more about the water treatment systems with this project. Although we will not be incorporating a green-roof into our design, I believe there are several lessons we can take away from this project, specifically involving grey-water usage and treatment of black-water in a sand field.