- Project Name
- The Frick Environmental Center
- Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
- Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
- Project Types
- Project Scope
- New Construction
- 15,600 sq. feet
- Year Completed
- Shared by
Civil Engineer: H.F. Lenz Co.,Landscape Architect: La Quatra Bonci Associates,Structural Engineer: Barber & Hoffman
- Certifications & Designations
- LEED Platinum
- Project Status
This article appeared in the November 2019 issue of ARCHITECT as part of our expanded coverage of the 2019 AIA COTE Top Ten Awards.
By delicately balancing passive and active systems, this environmental center teaches the public about sustainable design through its net-positive energy and carbon design.
Frick Park—the 644-acre green space nestled among the hilly neighborhoods east of downtown Pittsburgh—has long acted as an oasis in the dense industrial city, but has always lacked a gateway. In 2011, the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy invited Wilkes-Barre, Pa.–based Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) to design a new environmental center to act as a locus for the park’s education and advocacy efforts and to teach visitors about energy-efficient design. “The mission was to make sustainability a part of the park experience,” says senior associate Patricia Culley, AIA. “We wanted the building to be a platform to make nature itself a part of that mission.”
The three-story center, which is free to the public, occupies the same footprint as the park’s former education center, to minimize ecological disruption. Located on the side of a hill, visitors enter at the top floor and immediately find themselves amid the treetops of the surrounding forest.
The building relies on a number of passive heating and cooling strategies, beginning with a high-performance, highly insulated exterior wall clad in black locust—a locally sourced wood that does not require sealant or staining. “We tried to be creative with the systems we were going to use,” Culley says. “First, that meant designing a good envelope, and then looking at systems that are super-efficient.”
The firm also incorporated a number of passive strategies, like roof overhangs, natural ventilation, and a red light/green light system that lets occupants know the best time to open windows. Photovoltaic shading, located in the parking lot, provides much of the energy. The center’s predicted net energy use intensity (EUI) was just 2 kBtus per square foot per year—60% below average for similar structures, and the actual net EUI came in at -0.7 kBtus per square foot per year—an energy surplus, which is sent to the grid.
For all the energy savings, water is also an essential part of the center’s sustainability agenda. Low-flow fixtures and minimal irrigation reduce demand, but the architects wanted to do more—not just to save water, but to show visitors how it sustains a place like Frick Park. “The water story is a huge component in this site,” says senior associate Robert Aumer, AIA.
After decades of neglect, the site had experienced significant erosion, which the designers addressed by adding 7,000 plants, including 200 new native trees. With careful landscaping to reduce the hillside grade, the BCJ team was able to restore a significant amount of the site’s luster with minimal artificial irrigation.
The center sits astride two watersheds, and the architects were careful to make sure that stormwater falling on the building was diverted evenly. Rain that falls on the north side is captured in a 15,000-gallon underground cistern, and is used for flushing toilets and other nonpotable needs. In fact, Aumer says, while local laws prevent the use of rainwater for drinking, the site has enough capacity to meet potable water demand as well, should the laws change.
Rain falling on the south side plays a very different role: Water flows off the roof in a sheer curtain, called the Rain Veil, which is visible from inside the center. The runoff then passes through the Rain Ravine, an installation by artist Stacy Levy that mimics the sandstone-lined creek beds found in the park, giving visitors an up-close view of the region’s water ecology.
BCJ was conscious of making the building’s systems, for water and energy alike, easy to use for staff and visitors. “So many times we’ve seen this—you deliver a sophisticated system that the maintenance crew refuses to operate,” Culley says. “We’re proud that our building is simple to maintain.”
Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Owner: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Project Site: Previously developed land
Building Program Type(s): Education—General; Office—10,000 square feet; Public Assembly—General
Year of Design Completion: 2014
Year of Substantial Project Completion: 2016
Gross Conditioned Floor Area: 16,440 square feet
Gross Unconditioned Floor Area: 2,000 square feet
Number of Stories: Three
Project Climate Zone: ASHRAE 5A
Annual Hours of Operation: 2,660
Site Area: 182,952 square feet
Project Site Context/Setting: Urban
Cost of Construction, Excluding Furnishings: $13.75 million
Number of Residents, Occupants, and Visitors: 75,000
Project: Frick Environmental Center, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Client/Owner: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Wiles-Barre, Pa. . Roxanne Sherbeck, FAIA (principal-in-charge); Robert Aumer, AIA (senior associate, project manager); Patricia Culley, AIA (senior associate, project architect); Drew Balzer, AIA, Jason Brody, AIA, Matthew Conti, Jennica Deely, Natalie Gentile, AIA, Matthew Huber, Jon Jackson, FAIA, Matthew Plecity, Michael Maiese, AIA, Michele Mercer, Gina Rossi, AIA, Roxanne Sherbeck, FAIA, Kent Suhrbier, AIA (project team)
Construction Manager: PJ Dick
Landscape Architect: La Quatra Bonci Associates
Structural Engineer: Barber & Hoffman
Civil Engineer: H.F. Lenz Co.
MEP/FP Engineer: RAM-TECH Engineers
Sustainability Consultant: Atelier Ten
Stormwater Management Consultant: Nitsch Engineering
Sustainability Consultant (for Client): Evolve EA
Environmental Artist: Stacy Levy
Size: 15,570 square feet (main building); 4 acres (site)
Cost: $13.75 million
Materials and Sources
Adhesives/Coatings/Sealants: Carlisle Construction Materials; Tremco Commercial Sealants & Waterproofing; WR Meadows; Pecora Corp.
Carpet: J+J Flooring
Concrete: PJ Dick
Exterior Wall Systems: Black Locust Lumber; Prosoco; Cascadia
Flooring: Armstrong; Flexco
Glass: Cardinal Glass
Gypsum: US Gypsum Corporation
HVAC: Watts Radiant; Trane; Price
Insulation: Knauf Insulation; Rockwool; Hunter Panel; Stego Industries Lighting: Nulite; Gotham Lighting; Lithonia
Lighting Control Systems: Lutron
Masonry/Stone: York Building Products; Hohmann & Bernard
Metal: Petersen Aluminum Corporation
Millwork: Avonite Surfaces
Paints/Finishes: DalTile; Benjamin Moore
Photovoltaics/Other Renewables: Solar World; Solar Edge
Plumbing/Water System: BRAE rainwater harvesting system; Elkay; Toto
Roofing: Carlisle SynTec; Centria
Site/Landscape Products: Raducz Stone Corp.; Unilock; Ohio Gratings
Soffit: Sto Stucco System
Structural System: ClarkDietrich Building Systems; Vulcraft (Nucor)
Windows/Curtainwalls/Doors: Marvin Windows; Tubelite; Wilson Partitions; VT Industries
This project is a winner in the 2019 AIA COTE Top 10 Awards. It is the recipient of the Top Ten Plus Award.
The Frick Environmental Center is a living learning center for experiential environmental education. The building and its four-acre site act as a gateway to Pittsburgh’s wooded 644-acre Frick Park and embody the neighborhood-to-nature ideal that served as inspiration for the park’s formation more than 90 years ago. The center exemplifies principles of equity, experiential learning, and public engagement and is welcoming and inclusive for all. A joint venture between the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the center is LEED Platinum and Living Building certified, municipally owned, and has free admission. The center demonstrates the conservancy’s mission to restore the city’s deteriorating parks and reestablish a cycle of stewardship. Intensive community outreach and engagement took place during all phases of planning, design, and construction and continues well into operation to maintain the pride of ownership that builds long-term sustainability. As the main classroom for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s educational programming, the building and surrounding site are educational ecosystems for both immersive outdoor education and hands-on lessons in sustainability. Biophilic design strategies used throughout the project both beckon and shelter, gently nudging park visitors from the adjacent neighborhoods toward the heart of the wooded park beyond. The three-story building is nestled into an existing slope and sheltered by a simple roof resting on slender columns. A service barn, outdoor amphitheater, and restored historic stone gatehouses and fountain complete the site. The center’s beauty and sustainable story inspire new visitors while simultaneously encouraging them to grapple with the impact of our humanity in a dynamic natural ecosystem—one that we are part of, yet inherently distanced from. The center provides the stage for public discourse about this delicate balance.
Community engagement: A partnership was formed with stakeholders to share in the decision-making process including development of alternatives and identification of the preferred solution.
Walk score: 70
Estimated occupants who commute via alternative transportation (biking, walking, mass transit): 45 percent
Estimated annual carbon emissions associated with the transportation of those coming to or returning from the building: 11.46 metric tons
Percentage of the site area designed to support vegetation: 65 percent; The inherent desire to promote natural vegetated areas within the public parkland was prioritized over fabricated vegetated areas (i.e. green roof). The decreased percentage of vegetative area was in part a result of added previous paving, although that paving maintains the site's ecological water flow.
Percentage of site area supporting vegetation before project began: 70 percent
Percentage of landscaped areas covered by native or climate appropriate plants supporting native or migratory animals: 100 percent
Predicted annual consumption of potable water for all uses, excluding process water:29,870 gallons; 0.37 gallons per visitor annually (75,000 annual visitors); 40 percent reduction compared with EPA guidelines.
Is potable water used for irrigation? no
Predicted peak month consumption of potable water for outdoor (irrigation) purposes:n/a
Actual annual consumption of process water (e.g. cooling towers): 0.6 gallons per visitor annually (44,685 total gallons divided by 75,000 visitors annually)
What percentage of water consumed onsite comes from rainwater capture? 76 percent; The project uses rainwater harvested for all non-potable water usage. The center collects rainwater at 2.1x the water demand, more than enough to account for all potable and non-potable water needs including: irrigation of the edible garden, showers, fountain, lavatory, and water closet. The center’s rainwater collection and storage infrastructure are sized to fully offset city-supplied potable water use, making the facility fully net-zero water should regulatory authorities in Western Pennsylvania allow harvested rainwater for potable water purposes.
Is greywater or blackwater captured for re-use? no
Percent of rainwater that can be managed on site: 100 percent
Water quality for any stormwater leaving the site: 80 percent of TSS removed from stormwater runoff based on the TSS removal percentages from the PA Stormwater BMP Manual located in Chapters 5 and 6.
Cost per square foot: $363
Estimated annual operating cost reduction (identify baseline): With renewable (PV array) taken into account, the project achieves 108.32 percent energy cost savings compared to ASHRAE 90.1-2007
Life Cycle Analysis of the costs associated with measures taken to improve performance: During early design phases, a number of strategies were studied in depth to determine the effectiveness in reducing energy as well as investment or simple payback. For example, our analysis showed that the earth duct and energy recovery unit were both very effective and capable of essentially eliminating the ventilation air heating load; however, implementing both components to work in combination would not produce any additional energy savings, and potentially can negatively impact each other during parts of the year unless they are properly controlled. Therefore, the decision was made based on low to no payback as well as the competing benefits of both systems, to no longer include the earth duct in the project’s passive system design. Similarly, we studied the use of Phase Change Materials (PCM) to reduce the need for conditioning and maintaining thermal comfort for longer periods. We discovered that the application of PCMs in the initial energy model, showed little, and occasionally inconsistent, impact on annual energy savings. We continued to study how these could work in smaller meeting spaces and even requested the manufacturer to conduct a parallel study for comparison. In conclusion, the amount of savings between the two studies were within 1-2 percent of each and illustrated, with this application of the product, it would not provide significant energy saving per annum.
Predicted consumed energy use intensity (EUI): 30 kBtu/sq ft/yr
Predicted Net EUI: 2 kBtu/sq ft/yr
Predicted Net carbon emissions: 6 lb/sq ft/yr
Net carbon emissions refers to net purchased energy use (total energy use, less any energy generated on-site from renewable resources).
Predicted reduction from national average EUI for building type: 60 percent
Predicted lighting power density: 0.7 W/sq ft
Actual Consumed Energy Use Intensity (Site EUI): 23 kBtu/sq ft/yr
Actual net EUI: -0.7 kBtu/sq ft/yr
Actual net carbon emissions: -0.18 lb/sq ft/yr
Actual reduction from national average EUI for building type: 101
Percentage of floor area or percentage of occupant work stations with direct views of the outdoors: 99.8 percent
Percentage of floor area or percentage of occupant work stations within 30 feet of operable windows: 100 percent
Percentage of floor area or percentage of occupant work stations achieving adequate light levels without the use of artificial lighting: 77 percent >300 lux at 3pm March 21
Is this project a workplace? yes
How many occupants per thermal zone or thermostat: 20
Percentage of occupants who can control their own light levels: 100 percent
Peak measured CO₂ levels during full occupancy: heating season max CO₂ 788 ppm (average 465 ppm); cooling season max CO₂ 756 ppm (average 401 ppm)
Peak measured VOC levels during full occupancy: heating season max 130 ppb (average 39 ppb); cooling season 168 ppb (average 86 ppb)
Percentage of materials, by value, incorporating health criteria such as HPD or Red List compliances: 100 percent
Annual daylighting performance: 100 percent of regularly occupied area achieving at least 300 lux at least 50 percent of the annual occupied hours.
CO₂ intensity: 0.09 lbs/ sq ft
Estimated carbon emissions associated with building construction: 155 lbs/ sq ft
LCA: Were other life-cycle assessments (LCAs) conducted? no
EPD: Were environmental product declarations (EPDs) collected? no
Percentage (by weight) of construction waste diverted from landfill: 99.74 percent
Did you calculate the percentage of materials reused from existing buildings or other local sources by weight? no
Did you calculate the percentage of materials reused from existing buildings or other local sources by volume? no
Did you calculate the percentage of materials reused from existing buildings or other local sources by cost? no
Percentage (by cost) of materials with comprehensive third party certifications (Declare, Cradle-to-Cradle, etc.): 5 percent; During the design phase of the project, third party certifications including the Living Building Challenge Declare list, Health Product Declarations, and Cradle-to-Cradle were in their infancy, thereby limiting the percentage of potential third party certified materials.
Percentage of project floor area, if any, that represents adapting existing buildings: 1 percent
Anticipated number of days the project can maintain function without utility power: 1 day; The building does not rely on mechanical conditioning and lighting as a primary means of operation, and therefore can operate without power. However, as a public facility it requires power for operation as a safety precaution.
Percentage of power needs supportable by onsite power generation: 100
Situated on the edge of Pittsburgh’s wooded 644-acre Frick Park, the Frick Environmental Center is a living learning center for hands-on experiential environmental education, providing visitors with diverse opportunities to experience a natural ecosystem while learning the technical aspects of a net-zero building. The project embodies the neighborhood-to nature-ideal that served as inspiration for Frick Park’s formation more than 80 years ago.
Serving as a public gateway to Frick Park, the Frick Environmental Center is designed to both beckon and shelter; gently nudging park visitors from the edge of city neighborhoods towards the heart of the “wild” park beyond. The project’s beauty inspires new visitors while simultaneously asking them to grapple with the impact of our humanity in a dynamic natural ecosystem—one that we are part of, yet inherently distanced from. The Center provides the backdrop for public discourse about this delicate balance. The Frick Environmental Center was recently awarded LEED Platinum certification, and is currently in the performance review period for the Living Building Challenge, widely regarded as the world’s most rigorous and complete building standard.