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What’s Old is New (and Green) Again

A former Pittsburgh public works building has been transformed into one of the greenest buildings in the world.


After the opening of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, an education, research and administration facility, it was hard to imagine that Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens could get any greener.

Enter the Exhibit Staging Center.


As a former city public works building, the structure was never one you would call “green.” With block wall masonry, a flat roof and no windows, the industrial facility was a typical design of the 1960s. But instead of demolishing the building, Phipps adapted and transformed it into the Exhibit Staging Center (ESC), a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose sustainable building. 

“The greenest building is one that’s already here,” says Richard Piacentini, Phipps President and CEO. “So we thought if we could actually take this building and convert it into a super-green building, that would make a lot more sense than tearing it down and start[ing] from scratch.”


As part of its green designation, the ESC will have features such as a large number of windows to maximize natural light, a vegetative living wall, geothermal wells for heating and cooling, solar panels on the roof and wetlands that will store, recycle and treat rainwater for use in the building.

“If you look at Pittsburgh, we have a lot of old buildings all around. If we can convince people and show people that you don’t have to tear them down to do something green . . . I think that makes a real powerful statement,” Piacentini says.


Upon the ESC’s completion and certification, Phipps will be the home of the greenest buildings in the world (the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Nature Lab and the ESC) showcasing new, existing and modular construction types. 

The primary occupants of the ESC will be maintenance and grounds crew; the building is designed to ensure that the health and well being of all staff members is a top priority, and it will also include a meditation room, yoga studio and fitness room.


“We care about all our staff, and I think traditionally maintenance staff gets some of the worst buildings,” Piacentini says. “We think they should deserve as good a building as everyone else.”

The ESC will also be open to visitors for a behind-the-scenes look at Phipps’ past and future flower shows, including a glimpse at the construction of display props and a chance to see inside the Phipps Vault, where historic topiaries and props from past shows will be on display. Piacentini says that this is one of his favorite parts of the building.

“Our flower shows are incredibly popular to people, and people always wonder, ‘how do they do it?’ and here’s a chance to come in and see some of it in action,” he says.

Learn more and plan your visit at phipps.conservatory.org.

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