When asked to name the site of one of the world's greenest buildings, you may not immediately guess Pittsburgh, PA. However, with the recent addition of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, an administration and education center that is putting Pittsburgh at the forefront of the green movement, Pittsburgh can now claim that title. One hundred years ago, when Henry Phipps gifted the Phipps Conservatory to the City of Pittsburgh, he may not have been able to comprehend all the changes his gift would go through in the years since his 1893 donation. However, one thing has always remained constant about the Conservatory: its mission to provide people with the tools to live more sustainable lives.
In 1893, when Mr. Phipps made his donation to the city, the Conservatory cost $100,000 to build and received its plants from the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago. One hundred years later, in 1993, the Conservatory began a transformation that continues today. First, Phipps Conservatory, Inc. inked a 100 year agreement with the City of Pittsburgh to take over management of the Conservatory. 2005 saw a new 11,000-square-foot Welcome Center completed. This center cemented the Conservatory's commitment to green, as it became the first LEED certified visitor center in a public garden in the U.S. The Tropical Forest Conservatory was added in 2006, and then in 2007 the Conservatory's Board of Trustees took on their biggest green challenge yet.
The Living Building Challenge is a nation-wide push to create the world's first living building. The Conservatory accepted the challenge to build a new administration and education center, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. The building was designed to be the greenest building in the world, in part because it generates all of its energy, treats all its water in house, and will contain a sustainable landscape. Instead of simply meeting all of its green goals, the CSL surpassed their own and those of the three highest green standards in the country: LEED Platinum, the Living Building Challenge and SITES landscape certification.
The CSL, a 24,350-square-foot facility that sits on 2.65 acres, will provide practical applications for guests of Phipps, such as educational classes in the innovative classrooms located within, the capacity for research projects, plus numerous demonstrations and displays. However, the most remarkable thing about the CSL is its ability to use the principles of nature to sustain itself. Energy will be created using a combination of wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal wells, which might mean an 80% reduction of energy use as compared to the average office building. All water in the facility will be treated and reused. It is hoped that the CSL will be a model for sustainability that will provide inspiration to people around the world.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has much to offer the more than 191,000 people who visit each year. In addition to learning about and exploring sustainable concepts and green living, the Conservatory offers programs, classes and displays covering a wide variety of topics, from healthy cooking to camps for children to flower shows. People interested in studying sustainability and healthy living in depth can take part in the Conservatory's certificate programs. Those that just want to experience the beautiful surroundings can tour the tropical forest exhibit or the demonstration gardens. No matter what you plan to do when you arrive at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, you can be sure that by the time you leave, you will feel a sense of inspiration and love for our great planet.