The Greenest Building on Earth: Pittsburgh’s Centre for Sustainable Landscapes

By: Marsha Solock Morgenstern

January 20, 2014

Pittsburgh is a leading city in environmental sustainability with more than 37 green-certified buildings. It’s home to one of the greenest buildings on Earth: The Centre for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The state-of-the-art, three-story structure, which opened in December 2012, is the first building to try and achieve three of the highest green building and landscapes standards. In August 2013 it earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification; the highest level awarded, and in November 2013, it was the first building and project in the world to earn four stars in the Sustainable Sites Initiative. Soon, it’s expected to meet or exceed the Living Building Challenge.

Exterior with Lagoon and Tropical Forest Conservatory – A lagoon captures overflow from the cistern and surface runoff from most of the site and adjacent roofs while providing a habitat for local plants and wildlife. © Denmarsh Photography, Inc.


Fittingly, the facility was designed to operate as efficiently as a flower. “The flower is a metaphor for the liveability challenge. It is rooted in place, makes its own energy from the sun, and captures all its own water,” said executive director of Phipps Conservatory Richard V. Piacentini. The CSL is a zero net energy and zero net water building, producing all of its own renewable energy with solar panels, geothermal wells, and a vertical axis wind turbine. It also treats and reuses all water captured on site.


Green Roof | Pittsburgh's Centre for Sustainable Landscapes

Green Roof – The Center for Sustainable Landscapes features a restorative landscape with nine different plant communities, while this permaculture green roof highlights edible and other useful native species. © Denmarsh Photography, Inc.

Self-guided and docent-led tours of the CSL are included in the price of Phipps admission. Here, you can view engaging exhibits and artwork in the central atrium, discover a constructed wetland that treats the water from the toilets and sinks for reuse, explore a rooftop garden that collects rainwater for reuse in 80,000-gallon underground tanks, and behold a lagoon that also stores rainwater and naturally treats it. Children and adults enjoy programs in the indoor and outdoor classrooms.


Tropical Forest Conservatory | Pittsburgh's Centre for Sustainable Landscapes

Tropical Forest Conservatory – Phipps strives to grow plants that tolerate Pittsburgh’s climate without requiring a lot of water.  © Paul G. Wiegman

Environmental sustainability extends beyond the Centre for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps. In fact, its Welcome Centre was the first LEED certified visitor centre in a public garden; its production greenhouses were the first greenhouses to be LEED certified; and the tropical forest conservatory is the most energy efficient conservatory in the world. Guests can also enjoy healthy, eco-friendly options at Café Phipps. “In our café we sell a lot of local and organic foods and we got rid of all the plastic disposables,” said Piacentini.


Welcome Center | Pittsburgh's Centre for Sustainable Landscapes

Welcome Center – A chandelier created by the famous glass artist: Dale Chihuly is the centrepiece of the Welcome Center at Phipps. © Paul G. Wiegman



Beyond exploring the beautiful conservatory with fabulous flower shows and exhibits, the goal is for people to leave Phipps inspired, taking home ideas they can implement in their own life when it comes to environmental sustainability. -¦A lot of times in the environmental movement, people are told they have to give things up,” said Piacentini. “We try to show that living a more sustainable lifestyle could be very beautiful.”

With exhibits year-round, The Centre for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens aims to showcase the connection between people, plants, health, environment, and beauty.


Main Entrance Exterior | Pittsburgh's Centre for Sustainable Landscapes

Main Entrance Exterior – Designed and built by the people of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as an innovation for the world, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps has emerged as one of the greenest buildings on Earth. © Denmarsh Photography, Inc.



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Written by Marsha S. Morgenstern


Marsha Solock Morgenstern

A former Floridian, Marsha Solock Morgenstern moved to the Pittsburgh area in 2006. She enjoys the changing seasons, the friendly community, and the arts and culture Pittsburgh has to offer. In addition to freelance writing, Marsha teaches Academic Writing full-time for the University of Phoenix.

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