by Michael Sexauer and Jessica Romano
In July a group of about fifteen SC members were treated to a tour of
the Phipps Conservatory. Being truly impressed by the amazing “green”
renovations taking place at Phipps, it seemed appropriate to ask Michael
Sexauer and Jessica Romano to provide the following article.
As the Green Heart of Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical
Gardens is taking a leadership role in sustainable buildings and practices
for public gardens throughout the world. The place where thousands stroll
to see changing plant shows is now a place that introduces the public to a
new world of green standards.
Phipps’ green efforts grew with our recent expansions. In 2005, Phipps
introduced the Welcome Center the first LEED-certified visitor center in a
public garden in the United States. LEED (Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design) is the accepted standard of measurement for high
performance, eco-sensitive green buildings established by the United
States Green Building Council. Nestled into the earth, the Welcome
Center’s beautiful glass dome catches the eye, and what’s inside is a high
performance building that is both energy and water efficient.
The unique design of the Welcome Center allows for an enjoyable experience
for visitors while implementing important functions that maximize energy
savings. Here are some of the features that make the Welcome Center
- A green roof, established by setting the building into the ground,
provides a heat sink that enhances efficient climate control.
- Vents in the glass dome help cool the building.
- Electricity is generated solely by wind power.
- A state-of-the-art computer program triggers heating of the sidewalks
when snow or ice is detected, reducing the need for fossil-fueled
snowplows and environmentally unsafe de-icing chemicals. This process uses
waste-steam heat from the greenhouses.
- Laminated, insulated windows constrain glare and heat while allowing
maximum daylight in.
- Other environmentally friendly features include waterless urinals and
compostable drinking cups.
Phipps unveiled the Tropical Forest Conservatory in 2006. When designing
this building, our intentions were to bring a new, exotic space for
visitors to explore. What we hadn’t intended was for this 12,000 square
foot building to be the most energy efficient conservatory in the world,
which it is today.
Visitors to the Tropical Forest Conservatory will notice cascading
waterfalls, a treetop canopy walk, fragrant flora and exotic plants. They
may also notice the comfortable conditions inside. What they don’t see are
the many innovations that make this conservatory so energy-efficient:
- A Solid Oxide Fuel Cell, the first ever used in a conservatory, produces
energy by turning natural gas into electricity. This reduces emissions and
minimizes the contribution to global warming.
- The radical roof design eliminates the use of enormous energy-consuming
exhaust fans, with a passive system to suck hot air out.
- Energy blankets prevent convective and radiant heat loss, providing
shade in the summer and thermal insulation in winter, all done by a
computer controlled system that is tied to a weather station.
- Earth tubes provide passive cooling by using earth 15 feet below grade
to cool the air. Hot outside air cools while traveling through the tubes,
and a vacuum created by hot air exiting the roof vents pulls the cool air
into the conservatory.
With the first two phases of our expansion complete, we move on to the
third and most elaborate phase: the construction of a living education,
research and administration center. This living building will generate its
own energy and renewable resources, capture and treat all of its water on
site, and use resources efficiently while achieving maximum beauty.
Phipps, the Green Heart of Pittsburgh, is dedicated to protecting our
global environment, and our efforts have only just begun.