As a sustainability consultant, walking into a building with that claim is like … walking into Chipotle with a limitless gift card – instant happiness.
For those who are not Chipotle addicts like myself, then I will use the old adage: it is like a kid walking into a candy store.
Everyday I talk about, read about, write about or think about best practices in sustainability within the built environment. Now, I am entering ‘one of the greenest buildings on EARTH.’ … I am in my dream building.
To call it a dream building is not that much of a stretch either. Entering through the underground Welcome Center (the first visitor facility in a public garden to earn LEED ® Certification) you immediately see the first of Dale Chihuly’s artwork hanging from the center of the glass dome, letting all visitors know that they are about to enter a whimsical, nature-filled dreamland.
As you progress through the original conservatory structure, you are constantly reminded of man’s relationship to nature. Not only with the juxtaposition of Chihuly glassworks and plantings, but also because of the very programming of the facility. The origins of conservatories stem from man’s desire to conquer nature. We wanted to grow and preserve fruits and rare plants from other parts of the world in our own backyards. However, present-day Phipps Conservatory is trying to reshape that relationship. Humans have an innate affinity towards nature, and as you walk through these spaces, that emotional connection is nurtured. The idea of conquering nature is no longer the driver, and instead, Phipps Conservatory is trying to teach its thousands of visitors how man can work with and learn from nature.
After you progress through all of the gardens, absorbing the tranquility and beauty that nature brings, you can then see how that begins to inform actual built form. With its newest addition, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, the building does not contrast with the previous nature-filled experience, but instead reconnects you with nature in a different way. You can begin to see how nature and building can work together to create a regenerative, inspiring and functional space.
What if a building could harness the sun’s energy like plants do and create all of its own energy? What if that same building could also capture its own water, treat it and reuse it? And what if it could also take a site that had been harmed through man-made activity and restore it back to its natural state? Also, why not enhance the health and well being of its occupants? And - in the end - can that building be used to educate and inspire its visitors to protect, restore, and nurture the natural world around them? Can a building not be about consuming and depleting, and instead be about giving and enriching?
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes does this and so much more. When Richard V Piacentini joined the Phipps team in 1994, he said he was going to “transform it into a global model of sustainability.”* Well, I believe he and his team have done just that. In 2013, the project earned its SITES Four-Star Certification and LEED v2.2 Platinum Certification. That following year, it received Net Zero Building Certification from the Living Building Challenge and also became the first building to earn WELL Platinum Pilot Certification. It did not end there, however. In March of 2015, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes received the Living Building Challenge Full Certification.
Let me repeat. Woah. Instant happiness.
The Living Building Challenge stresses the importance of working in harmony with nature, and I think that ‘harmonious’ might be the most apt description for this building. Each component, material and system has its purpose and place – all working together to create a balanced and efficient living building. Thermal massing along with high-performance operable windows are used in the atrium so that mechanical cooling is not even needed. In that same space, you will find a monumental stair to encourage patrons to be active. Encouraging activity continues as you make your way onto the green roof and find podiums describing yoga positions. While up there, you are also able to learn how the photovoltaics work and can check out the rooftop energy recovery unit. The roof then bleeds into the rest of the site, where all of the water is captured. Through the use of constructed wetlands, rain gardens, sand filters and other rainwater treatment technologies, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is able to achieve Net Zero Water.
It’s also harmonious in the sense that it took a lot of collaboration for a team to be able to create a building like this. There were two years of bi-monthly charrettes. Without this integrative approach, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, would not be this exemplar model of sustainability that it is today. Walking through the space, made it is easy to see the importance of working not only with nature but also with a strong team.
When philanthropist Henry W Phipps first founded the Phipps Conservatory in 1893, he stated that he wanted to “erect something that [would] prove a source of instruction as well as pleasure to the people.”* 123 years later, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is continuing to exceed that goal beyond expectations. It has become one of the greenest buildings on Earth.
*All facts and quotes from this article can be found here along with additional information about specific sustainable strategies implemented at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: https://phipps.conservatory.org