LEED BD+C: New Construction v2.0
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
LEED Silver 2006
The below stakeholder perspectives address the following LEED credits:
SSc7.2, MRc5.1, EAc1, WEc1.1, WEc3, EQc6.1, EQc8.1, EQc8.2
* This profile has been peer-reviewed by a USGBC-selected team of technical experts.
Goals and motivations
What were the top overarching goals and objectives?
While our initial overarching goal was to simply improve our visitor amenities and increase revenue, we later decided to pursue LEED certification as an example of the environmental stewardship that Phipps now promotes through our mission, daily operations, and education and outreach programs. The new Welcome Center also allowed us to reach several other objectives that evolved as the construction process progressed, including fulfillment of our desires to conserve energy and water, set an important sustainable precedent for subsequent phases of our master expansion plan, and position the organization as a leader in the green building movement.
After learning about LEED, we quickly realized that engaging in green building practices would enhance our mission as an ecologically-minded organization, and help establish Phipps as a local and national leader in promoting sustainability and biodiversity. Since one of the greatest threats to our planet is excessive use of natural resources, we determined that maximizing our efficiency would serve to lighten our ecological footprint and preserve precious ecosystems, as well as the life they support. In this way, the Welcome Center, a structure designed to meaningfully reflect our deep commitment to connecting people with plants and healing the Earth, provided us with the perfect opportunity to spread the word about the importance of conservation and create future change.
How has this project influenced your approach to other projects?
LEED certification of the Welcome Center planted the seed for many more green building advances to come. Taking all that we learned during the process, we revolutionized all of our future projects, including the Production Greenhouses, Tropical Forest Conservatory and Center for Sustainable Landscapes.Today, 100% of Phipps' electrical needs are met with solar power and wind energy that is generated both on- and off-site.
With the Welcome Center as our springboard, in 2006, we opened the Tropical Forest Conservatory, one of the most energy-efficient conservatories in the world and among the first to use a fuel cell for electricity. Building highlights include an unconventional shape that incorporates energy-saving insulated roof glass while still maintaining proper light levels for growing plants; a passive cooling system coupled with a radical venting system that opens half of the roof with earth tubes; and a computer-controlled shading system to provide a cooler interior climate in summer without the use of costly HVAC systems. Additional energy conservation features include energy blankets, root-zone heating, thermal massing, and a sophisticated integrated building monitoring system.Currently, Phipps is pursuing certification of this building under the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system.
Also opening in 2006 were our Production Greenhouses, which received LEED for Existing Buildings Platinum certification in June 2012. Taking energy efficiency measures to the next level with these structures, we implemented an open-roof system that eliminates the need for mechanical ventilation; used multiple layers of energy blankets in the glasshouses; added photo and occupancy sensors for lighting; and upgraded mechanical equipment to achieve the highest level of efficiency possible.Additionally, temperature, light levels,and humidity are Argus computer-controlled, allowing the production staff to maintain 16 different growing environments within eight ranges.
Finally, our most ambitious venture to date is the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), a dynamic research, education, and administrative complex. Now nearly complete, the CSL has been designed and built by Pittsburghers and Pennsylvanians to meet or exceed the world's three highest green standards: the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum certification, and SITES certification (a landscape rating also known as the Sustainable Sites Initiative). In achieving the Living Building Challenge standards, the CSL is expected to produce all of its own energy using renewable resources, and to treat and reuse all water captured on-site. It will also interact with the surrounding landscape as a vital part of daily operation, blurring the lines between the natural and built environments.
What were the motivations to pursue LEED certification and how did they influence the project?
- Cost/Utility Savings
- Design Innovation
- Funding Stipulation
- Organizational Policy
- Organizational Priority
Our overarching goal with the Welcome Center project was to improve visitor amenities and increase revenue. LEED certification was initially a secondary goal, but it quickly became the guiding force for all future development at Phipps.
As we embarked on the path toward LEED, we had no idea just how far it would take us. When we first heard about it in 1999, we were just discovering buildings' contribution to pollution problems, as well as inefficient energy and water use.Since many of our public programs have an environmental focus, it was a natural step for us to construct any additions to reflect our values so we decided to pursue LEED certification.As we began the LEED process, we became very curious about, and determined to understand, the reasons behind the requirements. In fact, the more we learned, the more we appreciated the concepts behind the ratings.
Design innovation was a strong motivator because we were faced with a historical preservation challenge and wanted to respect the character, mass, and design palette of the existing Conservatory while using clearly recognizable modern materials. The architect helped solve this issue by nestling the new structure in the earth, allowing it to highlight, rather than take away from, the original structure.
Importantly, while some funders indicated that LEED certification was mandatory for funding, we had already committed to pursuing certification prior to learning of this requirement.
What were the most notable strategies used to earn LEED credits?
The most important feature from a design standpoint was that we were able to get a tremendous amount of natural light into the Welcome Center. In adding onto an historic conservatory, every governing body in Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania was looking at how we were handling this structure. Ultimately, the design included a glass dome on the top, which allowed for daylighting and offsetting of electrical needs. Along with all of this daylighting, we were worried about heat loads building up. To address this, 50% of the dome's glass area is fritted, allowing for clarity and visibility while also reflecting sunlight, thereby cutting back on cooling needs inside. This dome prevents 99% of UV rays from entering the building.To augment the ability to cool the space, at the bottom and top of the dome are motorized vents tied into the HVAC digital control system. In the spring or fall, these vents can be opened to "burp" warm air out of the dome while leaving the lower-level air conditioned. Stratification and the properties of cold air sinking help keep the energy consumption low while providing additional outside fresh air, making it possible to cool without air conditioning.Incidentally, the fritted glass also deters birds from flying into the glass walls.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens panorama featuring the LEED Silver Welcome Center at twilight.
One interesting strategy was to minimize water use in the building. As a botanical garden, we were used to irrigation needs and never really thought much about this issue until we got involved in LEED. We decided to remove the entire irrigation system from the lawn of the entire Conservatory - not just the LEED project area.We replanted with drought-resistant, endophyte-enhanced grasses and switched over to a totally organic lawn care program.
We also created a plaza in front of the Welcome Center. By splaying the ground back, we were able to not only enhance the view and beauty of the building, but also allow a tremendous amount of daylight into the underground café and gift shop. The plaza enabled a wall of laminated, insulated windows to run the length of the concave courtyard, reducing glare and heat, while allowing the maximum amount of daylight to enter. Even though these parts of the building are not under the dome, the lights in the gift shop and café are hardly ever on because of the natural lighting. In addition, there is a green roof surrounding a glass dome above the Welcome Center, which provides a heat sink that further enhances the building's efficient climate-control systems. Reducing energy costs by nearly40%, which is 22% above the required level for LEED Silver certification, these technologies work together with the many other renewable energy solutions we employ campus-wide to offset our electricity use by 100%.
The green roof also helps to minimize stormwater runoff that would otherwise drain into the city's municipal treatment system. The roof is planted with sustainable plants and drought-resistant endophytic grasses that are irrigated solely with rainwater and managed organically, meaning that no harmful chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. Many of the low-maintenance plants showcased in this area are part of Phipps' Top 10 Sustainable Plants program, which highlights varieties selected annually for their non-invasive habits, resistance to disease and insects, and minimal water requirements. These demonstration gardens introduce visitors to the concept of using sustainable plants for ornamental purposes, providing plenty of inspiration for home landscaping efforts. More than a dozen local nurseries sell our Top 10 Sustainable Plants each year, helping us educate consumers about eco-friendly options. Interpretive signage demonstrating the benefits of the green roof, as well tips for what visitors can do at home to help the environment, enhance the educational value of this feature.All of these efforts stem from the Welcome Center and work together to show the public that going green can be beautiful.
Educational opportunities are also augmented by signage inside the structure, and guided tours focused on its cutting-edge sustainable features, as well as our other facility spaces, are available to guests.
What additional green strategies did not directly contribute to a LEED credit?
At Café Phipps, a three-star Certified Green Restaurant® in the Welcome Center, we have since extended the environmental stewardship that started with the LEED certification process by offering the cleanest, freshest food available, with a focus on organic and/or locally grown produce. During the harvest season, some of the produce comes straight from our very own organic edible garden. Our meat, dairy, and eggs are locally-sourced as frequently as possible, allowing us to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions associated with transportation and production of non-local foods. Safeguarding the health of our young visitors, our children's menu features whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, and ingredients that are minimally processed, low fat, and low salt with no added sugar. We've also eliminated soda and bottled water, and serve filtered water in vegetable-based cups or reusable bottles.
Additionally, our china and silverware are washable and reusable, which eliminates the energy, material, and water resources necessary to produce and haul disposable service ware. Our cups are made from compostable corn starches known as polylacticadic (PLA) rather than petroleum, and our napkins are made of 100% unbleached, recycled paper. After use, these products are composted off-site at a commercial composting facility and go through a heat-intensive process that causes them to break down into an organic soil amendment in about six months.
The Shop at Phipps, which is also located within the Welcome Center, promotes sustainable harvesting and fair trade in developing countries, ultimately helping to support conservation of tropical plants. Other items promoting sustainability at visitors' homes are available, such as local and recycled products, organic cotton shirts, reusable shopping bags, and stainless steel water bottles. Eco-friendly home cleaning products are offered for sale at a reduced price to all guests and staff. Tropical house plants that have been studied by NASA and universities for their air-cleaning abilities are available for visitors to take home; these plants remove toxins such as formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (TCE), and benzene commonly found in products such as carpet, facial tissue, permanent press clothing, composite wood furniture, paints, and gasoline. We also sell organic seeds for edible and perennial gardening each spring and summer.
Were there any cutting-edge strategies or processes implemented that you believe could transform the market?
Sustainability begins at the front entrance of the Welcome Center, where the walkway slopes gently down to the below-grade main level. Here, the Conservatory uses waste heat from condensate in a unique way to solve a potentially problematic winter maintenance challenge. Phipps is heated with steam produced at a nearby cooperative central steam plant. It is a closed-loop system, and the resulting warm condensate loses heat to the ground when it is sent back to the steam plant to be turned into steam again. Recognizing an opportunity, Phipps programmed its on-site computerized weather station (operated by a Delta building control system and positioned on the roof of one of our greenhouses) to recognize when it is cold and wet enough to make ice. It then turns on a snow melt system that extracts heat from the steam condensate that would otherwise be lost in the ground on its way back to the boiler plant. This heat runs through a network of underground pipes under the front walkway, melting snow and ice, which decreases the amount of gasoline-powered snowplowing required on site; decreases the use of snow melt chemicals on the walkway; decreases the impact these same chemicals would have on the aluminum building structure, stone, and concrete; decreases the amount of pollutants being tracked into the Conservatory; and makes the sloped sidewalks safe for pedestrians.
We have a tremendous need for parking at Phipps, but the Historic Review Commission would not allow us to build a new parking lot. To address this problem, we tore out half of the lawn, put down a gravel base and a GEO block permeable paving grid (made from recycled plastic), and refilled it with grass. The grid can hold 150 cars,but when no cars are parked there, it looks like a regular lawn with the added benefit that it mitigates rainwater. The lawn is planted with a drought-resistant variety of grass seed and is irrigated solely with rainwater. This strategy did not earn us any LEED points, but it is a good example of the kind of innovation that can come from going through the LEED process.
How was the integrative process applied and what was the greatest benefit gained?
While we used more of a traditional linear process, the owner met with the architect and construction manager weekly during design and construction. Together, we were able to address problems in an integrated way, setting the stage for the integrated design approach that we used with great success during phase three of our master expansion plan: the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. We found that the most efficient way to address issues is to have everyone in the room at the same time so that all parties' input can create solutions instead of everyone operating in their own silos. Using this collaborative process during construction of the Welcome Center led to the development of such innovations as the snow melt system and parking grid, which may not have come about if everyone hadn't collaborated.
In addition to inspiring innovation, the integrated process reduces the likelihood that time will be wasted with redesign, and identifying solutions to problems via a consensus ultimately ends up being more cost-effective.
In this video, "Integrative Design -- Phipps: A Case Study," learn more about how the integrative process works and can be used to achieve the highest green building standards.
Aside from LEED certification, what do you consider key project successes?
There were two main areas of success for us as a result of working on the new Welcome Center. The first was increased awareness of how much buildings contribute to energy and water use, as well as pollution. The second was a deeper understanding of the rationale behind the LEED requirements, leading us to look at all of our buildings and operations as opportunities to reach a higher level of environmental efficiency and effectiveness. Going through the LEED certification process also inspired our board to eventually change the Phipps mission statement to include sustainability as a key component.
In the process of broadening our awareness in pursuit of LEED, we minimized our demand on virgin materials for construction and ongoing operations, which then became a paramount policy at Phipps. Phipps has also since created a sustainability policy that follows the criteria set forth in LEED for Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance, and 90% of ongoing supplies, such as cleaning products and paper supplies, are recycled and GreenSeal approved. Recycled, unbleached paper towels are noted with educational signage, and non-antibacterial soap is used throughout the facility, too.
Outside of the Welcome Center, Phipps' historic lawn has also since become a symbol of sustainability.
Historical image of original entrance to Phipps Conservatory.
Outside of the Welcome Center, Phipps' historic lawn has also since become a symbol of sustainability. Featuring drought-resistant grass, it regularly serves as a home for a seasonal neighborhood farmers' market that features organic and certified naturally-grown produce, as well as other fresh food items from local farms.
What were the most important long- and short-term value-add strategies and what returns on investment (ROI) have been experienced or anticipated?
The most effective strategy was situating most of the Welcome Center underground, which has helped reduce heating and cooling costs. Fritting the glass dome and treating it as unconditioned space, as well as venting the dome in summer to allow excess heat to escape, undoubtedly aids in this area too. We implemented a number of effective water-saving strategies but because we don't pay for water, there is no financial ROI. However, by installing low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, and electronic faucets with aerators and by eliminating irrigation needs and adopting an organic lawn care program, we are saving considerable amounts of water and reducing toxic runoff. Each waterless urinal saves approximately 45,000 gallons of water per year.
What project challenges became important lessons learned?
My biggest lesson learned was in regards to thinking more about operations during design. In hindsight, I wish we had paid more attention to the café and behind-the-scenes kitchen area to make it more energy- and operations-efficient. This building was our first LEED experience, so we came to it with the understanding of creating a typical visitors center and museum. A typical café has disposable plates, plastic forks, and pre-packaged fast food, so our café was designed to that standard of food service. But as we got involved in the LEED process, we looked at how we could extend the principles behind it to everything we do in operations,considering options such as getting rid of plastic utensils and water bottles; composting café waste; and focusing on local and organic foods. We've implemented a lot of these practices and became three-star Green Restaurant Certified. However, it's been a challenge because this space is underground, and we can't make it larger to add dishwashers.
Another challenge was solving an important historical preservation issue, which we did by nestling the new structure in the earth, allowing it to highlight, rather than take away from, the original Lord and Burnham conservatory. This approach not only won swift approval from the City of Pittsburgh's planning and zoning regulatory boards, but it also helped increase energy efficiency in both the summer and winter, helping achieve our environmentally-minded aims. From a programmatic point of view, we had specific needs that included a large gift shop and café, bus tour staging area, lockers, handicapped-accessible restrooms, and more. In initial sketches,the building was huge, dwarfing the original Victorian glasshouse, which we knew the Historic Review Commission wouldn't approve. That's when the architect came back with the idea of putting most of the building underground and creating a dome in perfect proportion to the original conservatory. This gave us the program we needed, in balance with historic preservation.
Welcome center plan showing the building massing.
This project was done early enough that the general contractor and subcontractors didn't yet have a lot of LEED submittals under their belts. Therefore, we had to constantly check to see that they were submitting the right products and to confirm that substitutions that may have been equals on other projects were not on this one. Since then, we've developed a list of what's needed for each submittal so that the subs know it needs to be part of the LEED process.
What was a pivotal moment that impacted the project's direction?
A key moment in the process occurred when I noticed that tile from Turkey was being installed on the floor of the Welcome Center. I was surprised because it was my understanding that we were supposed to use local products to achieve LEED certification. When I inquired about why we were using this tile, I was told that we already "got the point" for this category. My response was that we were not doing this to just get points, but rather because we believed in what the points stood for.This was a major turning point for us because, with that realization, we decided to make all of our development projects and operations as green as possible moving forward. It was a point of recognizing that everything works in systems and of realizing that we needed to stop merely looking at individual components.
This experience completely changed the way we build and operate at Phipps. In addition to greening the operations of the café, we've shifted to featuring fair trade items in the shop. We're striving to eliminate disconnects like teaching Conservatory guests to care about rainforests and then selling them products from people who are cutting them down. After certifying the Welcome Center, we made changes to the design of our Production Greenhouses and new Tropical Forest Conservatory,which were under construction around the same time. Our Production Greenhouses are running at half the energy used to operate typical greenhouses based on a survey we recently conducted, and the Tropical Forest Conservatory ended up being among the most energy-efficient in the world when it opened. Now, we've earned LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Platinum certification for our Production Greenhouses, and we're striving for LEED Platinum, the LivingBuilding Challenge, and SITES certification for landscapes with our new Center for Sustainable Landscapes.
Another key moment involved a shift in our original plan to do all three building phases as one $36.6million capital campaign. We bid out the second building at a time when steel and concrete prices were through the roof. So, I went to our board and presented two choices: to value-engineer the entire project, cutting everything to the bone so we could do all three phases now; or, my preference, to keep the green and cutting-edge strategies in, do phases one and two right, and then conduct another capital campaign later for phase three. Fortunately, the board voted for the latter.
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