Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory

First LEED certified visitor center in a public garden

The Welcome Center at Phipps stands as the first LEED certified visitor center in a public garden in the United States. The Welcome Center features a reception area including a caf, a gift shop and an art gallery.

Pittsburgh architects IKM, Inc. faced this design challenge: How to place 12,465 square feet of new lobby, ticketing, gift shop and cafe spaces in front of a 7,600 square foot, historic landmark glass house built in 1893?

They solved important aesthetic and historic preservation issues by situating the Welcome Center partially underground, and using a design that complemented the original Victorian conservatory.

A 34-foot high glass dome crowns the Welcome Center, evoking the geometry of the historic glass houses. This splendid, fritted-glass dome above a central atrium solves the need for natural light, which illuminates the lobby, ticketing areas, gift shop and caf, thereby reducing the need for artificial lighting.

The Welcome Center’s design saves up to 40% in energy costs, 22% above the required level for LEED Silver certification. Energy saving features include:

  • Computer-controlled vents in the glass dome.
  • A green roof surrounding the glass dome that acts as a heat sink, further enhancing the building’s efficient climate control systems.
  • A wall of laminated, insulated windows that runs the length of the concave courtyard constrains glare and heat while allowing the maximum amount of daylight to pass through.
  • Powered 100% by wind power generated off site.
  • Phipps Conservatory
  • An interior with low- or no-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints, adhesives, carpet, and substrates along with locally mined limestone and water-saving fixtures.

To complete the visitors’ experience while staying true to the Phipps mission, the caf features locally grown and organic foods, uses corn-based compostable drinking cups and recycled napkins, and composts all pre- and post-consumer food and food service waste. Items in the gift shop promote sustainable harvesting and fair trade in developing countries.

During the winter months, waste steam condensate is channeled under the sidewalks to warm them before the steam returns to the plant shared by neighboring institutions. This process melts the surface snow and ice, significantly reducing the use of fossil-fueled snowplows and environmentally unsafe de-icing chemicals.

At peak visitor times, overflow parking is available on the front lawn at Phipps. The overflow area uses Alcoa’s Geoblock systema series of permeable, high-strength blocks made from recycled plastic materials. The system provides turf protection and prevents rutting from vehicle traffic while allowing grass to grow through the open-celled network. Unlike paved parking areas that create surface runoff when it rains, the Geoblock system allows rainwater to infiltrate the soil naturally, preventing runoff.

At a Glance

  • Historically sensitive design to highlight the original Victorian conservatory
  • Green roof insulates to save energy
  • Sidewalk snowmelt system uses waste-steam heat from the Conservatory
  • Low-flow water fixtures and waterless urinals
  • Fritted glass in dome reduces solar heat gain
  • Innovative computerized dome venting saves on A/C costs
  • Computer controlled interior environment tied into weather station
  • Drought resistant lawn, environmentally friendly lawn maintenance
  • Biodiesel powered maintenance equipment
  • FSC-certified wood used in construction
  • 100% wind powered electricity from offsite sources

First LEED certified visitor center in a public garden

  • A high performance building
  • Energy efficient
  • Water efficient
  • Improved indoor environmental quality
  • Local and sustainable construction material
  • Sustainable site development

Energy Efficiency

  • Computer simulations used in design process to effectively design the mechanical systems and daylighting controls
  • Insulated and low-e glass used throughout
  • Fritted glass in the dome further reduces heat transfer
  • High and low window vents tied into cooling system
  • Green roof insulates to cool building in summer and minimize heating needs in winter


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