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Above - left to right: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the newly expanded Children’s Museum, PNC Firstside Center, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.


“Western Pennsylvania is staking out a claim in green building. Right now, Pittsburgh is in the lead.”
-Rebecca Flora, Executive Director of the Green Building Alliance




Powdermill Practices What It Preaches

As education coordinator for Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve, Theresa Gay Rohall was accustomed to telling visitors how Powdermill is “committed to integrating the built environment into the natural environment.” But when a feasibility study of the biological field station pointed to the need for additional parking, Rohall spied a golden opportunity for Powdermill to practice what it preaches.

An asphalt parking lot was out of the question, she says, since asphalt parking lots allow water from storm events to run off and carry sediment and chemical pollutants to nearby streams and rivers, and also because the water doesn’t have time to be absorbed into the groundwater table, adding to the depletion of groundwater levels. Rohall enlisted a team of
specialists— many who volunteered time and materials—to develop a 60x100-foot lot that was environmentally friendly. The resulting parking lot, which doubles as an activity field, is all that and more.

The lot is water-permeable and grass-covered. Beneath the grass surface is a product called GeoBlock® that provides stability (cars won’t sink into the mud) while allowing groundwater to recharge through the surface. Another benefit is that unlike asphalt, the grass surface doesn’t give off heat. And linking the parking lot to Rt. 381 is a new, environmentally friendly driveway, which uses “French Mattress” technology—a low-cost, low-maintenance technique that cleans water of sediment so that impurities don’t negatively affect aquatic life. “The French Mattress uses layers of stone wrapped in non-woven geotextile fabric, a bit like a burrito,” Rohall explains.

The driveway and parking lot have been in use since 2003 and are performing to specs, Rohall reports with satisfaction. More than just a parking lot, it’s serving as yet another teaching tool for Rohall and her team—working proof that green solutions can be both smart and economical.

GREEN With Great Buildings

When Dinosaurs in Their World opens to the public in a few years, it will be Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s biggest expansion in 100 years—and the first project in the museum’s history to be built to the exacting standards of the “green building” rating system known as LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. LEED certification is a voluntary program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a national non-profit organization. Construction projects qualify for different levels of certification by incorporating sustainable design principles such as the use of natural lighting and ventilation, water-reclamation systems, and recycled and nontoxic materials.

“As an institution that researches and teaches the virtues of biodiversity and environmental conservation, it’s fitting that our expansion incorporates green-construction principles,” says Bill DeWalt, director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “It’s the responsible thing to do, and it will be cost-efficient in the long run.”

Craig Dunham, associate vice president of Facilities Planning & Operations for Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, explains that the concepts of green design and sustainable construction have actually been around for a long time. But they only recently became quantifiable thanks to the development of the LEED rating system. “In this project, we’re attempting to maximize daylight and minimize the need for heating and cooling,” says Dunham. “If you look back at the evolution of design, for centuries people have been attempting to do exactly the same thing through passive design. In more recent years, there’s been an explosion in consciousness that has a lot to do with energy savings, recycling of building materials, and cost efficiencies.”

Carnegie Museums is in good company in its quest for LEED certification, according to Rebecca Flora, executive director of the Green Building Alliance, a local non-profit organization that “integrates environmentally responsible and high-performance design, construction, and operating practices into the Greater Pittsburgh market.” In fact, so many western Pennsylvania organizations have gone “green” with their new construction or expansion projects, that the region ranks #1 nationally in the number of environmentally responsible, high-performance buildings.

Two stellar examples are the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (the world’s first certified green convention center) and PNC Firstside Center (the largest corporate LEED certified building in the U.S.). Other notable local projects include expansions of
the Children’s Museum, Phipps Conservatory, National Aviary, Heinz History Center, three of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s recent renovation projects, as well as the future Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In addition, the Coro Center for Civic Leadership recently received Gold LEED certification for its energy efficient commercial interior—the first such designation in Pennsylvania.

“ All of the new public venues are going in this direction,” says Flora, “in large part because of the local foundation community.” She explains that several Pittsburgh foundations, such as The Heinz Endowments, have provided significant grants for green construction projects in the region, including the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and Carnegie Museum’s Dinosaurs in Their World renovation and expansion project.

A Green History
Pittsburgh’s environmental transformation from smoke-darkened to green began back in the 1940s, according to Flora. Pittsburgh has a legacy of responding to environmental issues, she explains—starting with air and water quality in the ’40s, followed by brownfield redevelopment in the ’80s, and now the green building movement, which many local experts attribute to Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Department’s emphasis on sustainable or green design.

“ Western Pennsylvania is staking out a claim in green building,” says Flora. “And in many cases, individual projects are having an impact in their industry sectors.”
A case in point: PNC’s commitment to green real estate development—starting with its FirstSide Center and expanding to all new construction—is being closely watched by such financial-services leaders as Bank of America. Likewise, Carnegie Mellon is being watched by other universities after having completed its LEED-certified New House Residence Hall and committing to green construction for all future buildings.

“ Right now, Pittsburgh is in the lead, although Seattle and Portland are close,” says Flora. She notes, however, that the U.S. remains significantly behind European countries, such as Germany, where green building practices are a way of life—and necessity—due to the shortage of natural resources.

PNC’s long-term commitment to building green was the result of an auspicious meeting between Gary Saulson, director of Corporate Real Estate for PNC Financial Services Group, and Rebecca Flora. Saulson recounts that PNC Firstside was initially conceived as a traditional building—not green at all. But Saulson became a green convert after his two-hour meeting with Flora. He’s since become the board president of the Green Building Alliance.

“ Rebecca approached me with the idea, and by the time she left my office, I was building a green building!” explains Saulson. “If a company can have employees working in an open, airy environment with natural light and fresh air, why wouldn’t you do it…as opposed to having them work in a black box?” Saulson says he can’t think of any reasons not to build green. “It’s positive economically, positive for employees, positive for the community, and positive for our shareholders.”

A Very Good Thing
Since that meeting between Saulson and Flora more than five years ago, PNC has built a number of green buildings, and is second only to Ford Motor Company in the number of LEED-certified buildings. Besides the energy savings, Saulson says that at Firstside Center, “employee retention is up, absenteeism is down, and satisfaction is up.”

Tracy Myers, curator of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center, says that building green is no longer a matter of getting the buy-in of the architectural world. “These are issues that should concern anyone who cares about our environment,” Myers says. “The green projects in Pittsburgh have heightened my conviction that these projects are of great importance to this region, and I’m not alone.”

Of all the green buildings in Pittsburgh, Myers says the new David L. Lawrence Convention Center stands out with its “swooping roof that makes a welcoming gesture toward the river.”

Robert Imperata, executive vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, says the David L. Lawrence Convention Center’s LEED certification makes it easier for his staff to market the facility. “It’s a very good thing. We do everything in our power to make people aware that it’s a green building—and understand the benefits it provides,” he says. “The building continues to get rave reviews from people who use it and from people who look at it for future use.”

Prehistoric Fossils in a Thoroughly Modern Setting
For 100 years, Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s renowned dinosaur collection has been housed in Dinosaur Hall, which was initially built to house one dinosaur. As the collection grew, the space became increasingly crowded, with fossils from various periods mingled in completely unscientific ways. Still, Dinosaur Hall has remained one of the Museum’s greatest attractions.

Left: Carnegie Museums’ Craig Dunhan and Bill Pope of Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates in the courtyard that will eventually be covered by the Dinosaurs in Their World expansion project, which will boast a three-story-high, light-filled atrium. PHOTO: LISA KYLE

Thanks to the expansion project, which will more than double the current exhibit space, the Carnegie dinosaurs will finally have their day in the sun—literally. They’ll be presented in exciting scenes based on current scientific understanding, and housed within a thoroughly modern, light-filled atrium that soars three stories high.

Lead architect Louis Sirianni, of E. Verner Johnson and Associates, has specialized in museum design for 25 years. Building a “green” museum addition was a new twist for him personally, but he says his firm embraced LEED standards about five years ago. Sirianni is responsible for developing the overall tone and look of the project, while coordinating a team of green building experts—including mechanical engineer Paul Petrilli of Pittsburgh’s Lenz Corporation and architect Bill Pope of locally-based Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates, who has expertise in LEED certification.

Pope explains that the centerpiece of the expansion is the new three-story, 13,000-square-foot Exhibit Atrium, which is being built over an existing courtyard. “The brick and terra cotta exterior finishes of the existing building are being utilized as interior finishes,” he says. “By reusing them and avoiding demolishing the exterior walls, we earn additional LEED credits.”

Another way Pope expects to earn credits toward certification is through innovation credits for educational kiosks that will be strategically placed throughout the new space. At the kiosks, visitors will read about LEED in simple language—and learn why building green is important for the environment and the community.

As noted by Director Bill DeWalt, the decision to go green was an obvious one for the museum, Dunham says. “As a natural history museum, we are always careful about choosing materials and about indoor air quality, because we need to protect our collections. We’re introducing daylight through unique architect-designed ceiling modules, using extremely efficient mechanical systems, and using water-based adhesives and paints that don’t contribute fumes to the indoor environment.”

He adds that the project will focus on using materials with high recycled-material content, as well as wood that comes from sustainably harvested “certified forests.” Other environmentally sound practices include air quality techniques that reduce the amount of dust entering the air—thus reducing hazards to employees, visitors, and the collections, and reducing the amount of dust that remains in the ductwork. In addition, all construction debris will be carefully separated and recycled (concrete, steel, etc.), reducing the amount of construction waste being shipped to landfills.

Pope notes that the cost of building green according to LEED specifications typically adds two to five percent in up-front costs. But those costs are usually recouped in long-term energy savings, in addition to reduced environmental hazards.

And, he says, there’s one other over-riding benefit: “It’s the right thing to do.”

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