Center for Sustainable Landscapes image courtesy of Phipps Conservatory

From the outside, the innovative and cool design of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes building hints at the quite remarkable features within. Built by the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the state-of-the-art Center remains one of the first and only buildings to meet four of the highest green certifications, including the Living Building Challenge. Now Phipps will mark the incredible structure’s five-year anniversary with a new forward-thinking plan.

Phipps announced their Five-Point Sustainability Plan, which focuses on facilities renovation, bolstered public events, a reduction in the use of plastics, and expanding the Biophilic Research Institute and Studio Phipps.

“This year, we’re looking at things that we think are doable that are important to start working on,” says Phipps Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini.

Even in the five years since the Center opened, Phipps has made strides to connect Pittsburghers with the natural world through its Biophilic City program and reward visitors for adopting sustainable practices.

Piacentini recently traveled to Washington, DC to accept the Beyond Green Award for Phipps’s partnership with Green Mountain Energy that switched more than 2,500 households over to renewable energy sources in 2017.

In line with those efforts is the facility’s commitment to reduce plastic waste both in its own operations and beyond.

“We’re really concerned with some of the recent statistics that have been coming out showing that by the year 2050, if we keep going at the rate we’re going, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” says Piacentini, adding that Phipps stopped using plastic disposables in its café and catering. “I think people are just starting to realize what a critical environmental issue this is because plastics sit for 10,000 years.”

One of the biggest goals for Phipps is renovating the Conservatory in anticipation of its upcoming 125th anniversary, which will be commemorated with a celebration in December 2018. Planned improvements include restoring the ogee crest, a crowning decorative feature removed from the Conservatory’s roof 80 years ago after it was damaged in a bad storm.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens shortly after construction in 1893, featuring the ogee crest. Public domain image/Wikimedia Commons.

“We’re going to restore all the panes of glass, all the ribbing, everything back to the way it looked in 1893,” says Piacentini. “It’s one of the most beautiful conservatories in the country and this will really solidify that great recognition once it’s completed.”

In addition to the Conservatory, Phipps plans to renovate their Garden Center on Shady Avenue, which now serves as the site of Pittsburgh’s first composting toilet.

Phipps will also expand its Living Campus by turning a former public works building on a brownfield into their sustainable Exhibit Staging Center, where visitors can gain behind-the-scenes access as staff members develop props and materials for use in flower shows and special exhibits.

To advance sustainable design, they created Studio Phipps, a design group meant to expand green spaces and help commercial clients to find ways to integrate the natural world into buildings.

Phipps will also host a number of public programs and events, including training workshops on sustainable land care, cooking classes and the upcoming One Health One Planet Symposium, a national spring event that will attract hundreds of health, environmental and community leaders.

Piacentini believes the plan will contribute to the City of Pittsburgh’s own efforts to create a healthier, more sustainable place for its residents, citing initiatives likes the 2030 District. But, he says, a lot of work still needs to be done, especially in the areas of eliminating lead and sewage from the city’s water, curtailing flooding, and looking at ways to fix Pittsburgh’s notoriously bad air quality.

“We have water issues that we need to solve and hopefully we’ll solve them with green infrastructure,” he says, adding that Phipps has examples of ways to deal with storm and sanitary water in a responsible way. “One of the things we can do, and are doing, is showing people that we have the technology and the ability today to do this now. We just need the resolve to do it.”

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...