Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, USA

A historic public garden leads green building into the future

Project Details

  • Scheme: BREEAM USA In Use
  • Rating Achieved: Part 2: Building Management- Outstanding

Project Team

  • Client: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
  • BREEAM Assessor: Ensight Consulting
  • Consultant: 3R Sustainability

About the Building

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is a 24,350-square-foot education, research and administration facility at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a public garden attraction in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Designed and built to generate all of its own energy while treating and reusing all water captured on-site, the first facility in the world to meet four of the world’s highest green construction standards- now adds the distinctive BREEAM Outstanding In-Use rating to its resume.

The core function of the CSL is to increase awareness of the interconnection between the natural and built environment, and the efficacy of sustainable systems. By employing a design that invites exploration while seamlessly integrating with the guest experience of Phipps — a 125-year-old institution which receives over 500,000 visitors annually — the CSL is uniquely positioned to showcase renewable energy technologies, conservation strategies, water treatment systems, and sustainable landscaping to a broad audience, including many engaging with these topics for the first time.


“At Phipps, we believe that public gardens have a role to play in mitigating the challenge of climate change, and we believe the answer lies in regenerative thinking that extends to our buildings, programs and operations. BREEAM In-Use is an essential milestone in this effort, as it demonstrates the results of that transformation, and the value of changing the way we see the world.” Phipps President and CEO, Richard Piacentini

Green Strategy

Designed to operate efficiently – the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) project demanded goals that had never been accomplished before. The stringent parameters required by the robust building certifications necessitated an integrative design process with well-defined goals shared by the entire design team and the owner. These “limits” actually served as catalysts for creative and innovative solutions that define the forefront of sustainable design.

The CSL had to overcome an array of challenges to set new standards for efficiency and occupant health. The sun, earth and wind had to be optimized to light, heat and cool the interior; all water had to be captured and treated onsite for reuse; every occupied space had to afford views of nature; a lifeless brownfield project site had to be rebuilt from scratch to host thriving, eco-regionally appropriate plant communities; and all materials suppliers had to disclose their products’ content to meet a stringent toxic materials red list. On top of these environmental challenges, the building had to integrate not only into its landscape but into the guest experience at Phipps, ensuring that hundreds of thousands of annual guests would observe its benefits and take home the message that ambitious green strategy is possible in their own workplaces, communities and even homes.

To achieve the ambitious goals of the CSL, two years of bi-monthly charrettes brought together building and landscape architects, designers, engineers, energy and lighting experts, consultants, modelers, academics, contractors, estimators, future occupants, community members and other stakeholders. This holistic, facilitated integrated design process capitalized on collective wisdom and shortened feedback loops, both essential to realizing the success of this project. Today, measurement and verification continue as the CSL has been offered to local universities as the subject of a vast array of original research projects investigating biophilic design and infrastructure, green building performance, green roof efficacy and biodiversity, brownfield restoration, biodiversity in urban lots, the developmental basis of science learning, and the physical and psychological benefits of human contact with nature.

  • Category score: 100%
  • Phipps has a dedicated Facilities Team that manages and maintains the entire campus in a sustainable manner
  •  Sustainable operations and maintenance plan and policies are in place to support the Team
  • Since the CSL site was a brownfield and as part of the Phipps mission, Phipps performed environmental assessments and created a biodiversity action plan that informed the design and construction process and will regenerate the site over time
  • Category score: 100%
  • Phipps pays special attention to specifying and purchasing products and materials that are robust, contain minimal amounts of embodied energy and water, are circular (Cradle to Cradle), and contain no Red List chemicals, all to promote a healthy environment, interior and exterior, and increase occupant health and productivity
  • Natural hazard management (e.g., wildfire, landslides, etc.)
  • Category score: 96.67%
  • Phipps is dedicated to energy conservation, was designed with efficient wall (thermal boundary), glazing and ventilation systems, is a Net Zero Energy Building, maintains a robust Building Automation System, and sub-meters energy so the Facilities Team can analyze data and address issues as they arise

• Category score: 96.15%
• Phipps is dedicated to water conservation, is a Net Zero Water Building, maintains a robust Building Automation System, maintains an innovative water reclamation system, and sub-meters water so the Facilities Team can analyze data and address issues as they arise
• The innovative water reclamation system depends, somewhat, on stormwater collection. Between 50-75% of the CSL water consumption is from alternative sources. In a wetter year, the percentage may be closer to 100%.

  • Category score: 94.59%
  • Phipps is dedicated to wellness, occupant health and productivity, and environmental health.
  • Daylighting, glare protection, personal thermal and ventilation controls, attention to IAQ, and the wellness program are particularly well designed and maintained
  • Category score: 91.67%
  • Eliminating the potential for light and chemical pollution on and off-site, especially given adjacency to Schenley Park
  • The innovative stormwater and wastewater collection system contains all water on-site, so it eliminates stormwater run-off pollution and reduces the potential for landslides
  • Since the CSL site was a brownfield and as part of the Phipps mission, Phipps performed environmental assessments and created a biodiversity action plan that informed the design and construction process and will regenerate the site over time

Benefits of assessing to BREEAM

While the CSL was not designed with a goal of meeting the BREEAM standard, the achievement of the Outstanding In-Use rating demonstrates that the building operates as if it were. This exciting new distinction proves the value of utilizing certification standards in tandem for a holistic approach to building performance assessment while connecting Phipps to a larger international audience of green building professionals.

“We, at Phipps, are increasingly finding ourselves on an international stage when sharing our experience with the Center for Sustainable Landscapes….The addition of a BREEAM rating helps us to communicate the value of green building to new audiences while placing us in the company of some of the world’s most innovative sustainable building projects.” -Phipps President and CEO Richard Piacentini 


What value does certification bring to the development?

The CSL was occupied in late 2012 and has continued to maintain its green goals through energy reduction efforts, even though this is not required by any certification system. BREEAM In-Use certification confirmed that our strategies are working to maintain the building’s status as one of the greenest buildings in the world. Additionally, as an educational institution that champions the value of green building standards, Phipps’ experience with BREEAM In-Use certification allows the organization to speak intelligently on the benefits and opportunities provided by the certification to interested members of the public or from other organizations.

In order to lead on sustainability, locally and globally, we need to set an example. Our work proves its true value when others meet and exceed that example. Certifications like BREAAM In-Use lend authority to our voice and help interpret our work to the world” Phipps President and CEO Richard Piacentini