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June 15, 2012

Green Giant

CMU Plays Key Role in Phipps' Center for Sustainable Landscapes

By Heidi Opdyke

PhippsLike a good neighbor, Carnegie Mellon has been assisting the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens with hopes of creating the greenest building on Earth.

Carnegie Mellon faculty, students and alumni have been part of the planning and construction for the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL). They will continue to work with the building as part of an ongoing research project.

The CSL is one of a handful of buildings designed to meet the Living Building Challenge of the International Living Future Institute and will surpass LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Phipps Executive Director Richard Piacentini called it one of the "greenest buildings in the world" and was doubly happy in being able to design and construct the building with companies from southwestern Pennsylvania.

"We wanted to be sure we built it in the right way," he said during a recent media tour. "The building reflects the great talent we have in the region."

The 24,350-square-foot building, which perches over Panther Hollow, is expected to open to the public later this summer and will be used for education programs and office space. The structure will produce all of its own energy through solar panels, a wind turbine and 14 geothermal wells. It also will manage and treat storm and sanitary water.

Piacentini said that Carnegie Mellon "not only played a central role in the building and design process, but will help us going forward."

"When we were building some of the other buildings here at Phipps, the CMU people were so enthusiastic and gave us some great ideas," Piacentini said. "They were natural partners for this project and, collectively, they have been a great sounding board for ideas. This isn't the end of our relationship; we look forward to continuing our work together."

Carnegie Mellon's Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics was a part of the process dating back to the design of the Tropical Rainforest, said Steve Lee, head of the School of Architecture.

"Too often, university faculty and students are not out in the field and don't have the opportunity to work with great organizations that are doing innovative things" Lee said. "With Phipps and its proximity to our campus, we're fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely on projects like this that make a difference."

The school assisted with the initial planning and architect selection, and many of the faculty members played a key role in the design brainstorming sessions to discuss different options. Faculty included Khee Poh Lam, Vivian Loftness, Azizan Aziz and Christine Mondor. In 2009, Loftness' fourth-year studio had students designing concepts for the building.

"Creating a building with such high performance can only happen with great leadership and vision at the top committed to an integrated delivery process involving all the stakeholders. Richard is the one with the courage, vision and drive to make this happen," Lee said.

Mondor (A'93), a principal at evolveEA, said that Piacentini contacted her firm in 2007 to collaborate on the project statement and assemble the project team. evolveEA, a design firm that focuses on environment and architecture, is currently managing the LEED and Living Building Challenge certifications.

"The Living Building Challenge certification requires a year of performance data to demonstrate that the building is 'net zero energy' and 'net zero water.'  We were one of the first team members for the project and will be one of the last remaining," she said.

Mondor teaches courses such as design studio, site engineering and human factors in architecture.

"Our undergraduate students have used Phipps as an example of the Living Building to inform their own design work," she said. "In addition, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes  will be home to a research center advocating for sustainable landscape issues in our region. I anticipate our students will continue to see Phipps as a resource."

Doctoral students are working on the project as part of their research. CMU and the University of Pittsburgh received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation. Professors Lam and Lee are co-principal investigators for the CMU team.

As part of the design, sensors will be mounted throughout the facility to gauge the building performance. Now in its second year, the goal of the project is to quantify the environmental impacts of buildings and aid in decision-making.

Lam has been working with the modeling for the project.

"Carnegie Mellon has always been about doing things that are applied to real world problems," Lam said. "Ultimately we want to make sure that this is used and can have a measurable impact. That's always been a hallmark of Carnegie Mellon education."

Phipps Executive Director Richard Piacentini and School of Architecture Head Steve Lee stand on the green roof of the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes. Behind them is the Tropical Rainforest.