Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: Center for Sustainable Landscapes

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes houses administrative and classroom functions for the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, while furthering the institution's mission "to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research." The design by The Design Alliance Architects aims to meet three systems for evaluating sustainability: LEED, the Living Building Challenge, and the Sustainable Sites Initiative. Numerous visible design features (light shelves, green roofs, repurposed materials, and constructed wetlands, among others) enable the building to educate, fitting for an institution involved with the conservation of nature. The architects answered a few questions about the project.
Lower Level Entry ( Photo ©: The Design Alliance Architects )
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

The client issued a Request for Proposal to several firms in the Pittsburgh region, since it was the client's desire for the project to be designed and built with local resources and talent. Short listed firms were invited to make a presentation that reviewed the proposed approach to creating a Living Building. The client requested teams to implement an Integrative Design Process. The Design Alliance Architects described in detail how this process would unfold and be used to guide the team in meeting the requirements of the project.
South Facade - Lower Level Administration Entrance ( Photo ©: The Design Alliance Architects )
Can you describe your design process for the building?

The Design Alliance followed a rigorous Integrative Design Process that engaged stakeholders at all levels. The process began with a series of goal-setting charrettes where requirements for the project were identified and prioritized by the team. Fundamental to this process was the continued engagement of the entire team in resolving and addresses issues during the design phase. This process precluded problem solving by individual disciplines within their  “silo’s” point of view and demanded active participation of the entire team to create an integrated design solution.
North Facade Facing East ( Photo ©: The Design Alliance Architects )
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?

There were few dramatic changes to the project design during construction. Many of the requirements for the meeting the Living Building Challenge limits on red listed materials were tested and some substitutions were made to the project. One major change to the design did include the elimination of  exposed architectural concrete finishes in the public “atrium” of the building in order to save cost and construction time. Another change to the project was made to modify the stormwater management system to shift from an infiltration system to a capture and reuse system. This change was made so that the captured water could be reused to water plants in the Production Greenhouses and thus save water usage on other parts of the campus.
Conference Room Looking Southeast ( Photo ©: Alexander Denmarsh, Denmarsh Photography )
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?

This project is a unique project for our office as it attempts to meet exceptional goals for sustainability and several certifications: Living Building Challenge, SITES and LEED Platinum.
View into Adminstrative Wing from Atrium ( Photo ©: Alexander Denmarsh, Denmarsh Photography )
How would you describe the architecture of Pennsylvania and how does the building relate to it?

This building responds to the both the natural context and architectural landscapes of southwestern Pennsylvania and references some of the local regional materiality and building vocabularies. The landscape and site design introduces a series of landscape zones that demonstrate specific ecologies of the region, such as upland groves, woodlands, successional slopes and shade gardens. The building integrates into the landscape and establishes strong connections between interior and exterior spaces. The primary building material is barn wood salvaged from decommissioned structures in the region.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Lower Level Plan
Second Level Plan
Green Roof Plan
Cut-Away Section - Atrium and South Wing
Daylighting Diagram - South Wing
Partner Building of the week
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: Center for Sustainable Landscapes
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The Design Alliance Architects
Pittsburgh, PA
Design Principal/Project Architect/Project Manager
L. Christian Minnerly, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Project Team
John Palmer (Technical Coordinator/Construction Administrator), Shannon Beisel, NCIDQ, LEED AP (Project Interior Designer), Paul Kane, RA (Architect), Dave Parker, AIA, LEED AP (Architect), Brandon Dorsey (Systems Modeling Technician), Ryan Cole (Architectural Intern)

Structural Engineer
Atlantic Engineering Services
MEP/FP Engineer
CJL Engineering

Landscape Architect
Interior Designer
The Design Alliance Architects
Turner Construction Company

Civil and Environmental Engineering
Civil and Environmental Consultants, Inc.

Sustainability, LEED and LBC Consulting
LEED and Performance Modeling Consulting
Pre Construction Services and Estimating
Massaro Corporation
Construction Estimating
Peer Review
Carnegie Mellon University
University of Pittsburgh
Research Assistance
Green Building Alliance
Information Management
Oculus Technologies
Owner's Representative

Building Area
24,350 sf

The Design Alliance Architects

Vectorworks USA