Key Dates

14 September 2023 - Launch Deadline
21 December 2023 - Standard Deadline
28 March - Extended Deadline
29 March - Judging
3 April - Winners Announced



Project Overview

The Exhibit Staging Center (ESC) is reimagining a dilapidated 1960s windowless public works building. It now showcases the latest green building technology, transforming a degraded space on a former brownfield into a place dedicated to the physical well-being of its occupants and visitors, the ecology of its site, and the habitat of native species.


Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens


FortyEighty Architecture; Architecture, Pittsburgh
Jeffrey Davis, AIA, Principal
Carmen Gong, RA, Project Manager
Paula Suhrbier, LBC Specialist

Common Ground; Civil / Structural Engineer, Gibsonia, PA
Bernard Lamm, PE

Iams Consulting, LLC; MEP Engineer, Pittsburgh
Jonathan Iams, PE, Principal
Alex Radkoff, EIT
Jim Veatch

evolve environment::architecture, LEED Consulting Services, Pittsburgh
Marc Mondor, Principal
Nick Rubenstein, Senior Project Manager

Studio Phipps; Landscape Architect, Pittsburgh
Mark DAmico, RLA, Manager

Massaro Corporation; General Contractor, Pittsburgh
Colin Gibbons, Project Manager
Mark Kacvinsky, Superintendent
Bryan Thomas, Project Engineer

Shepley Bulfinch; Biophilic Consultant, Phoenix, AZ
Sonja Bochart, Principal

Karl Steinmetz Designs; Yoga Court Design, Pittsburgh
Karl Steinmetz, Principal

Building Performance Architecture; Building Envelope Commissioning, Pittburgh
Rob Hosken, AIA, C.E.M.

CJL Engineering; Mechanical Equipment Commissioning, Johnstown, PA
Cris Harbaugh, PE

7group, Integrated Design Charrette Facilitating, Sinking Spring, PA
John Boecker, Architect
Marcus Sheffer, Enviroenergist

Other Organizations
Carnegie Mellon University Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics
Green Building Alliance
University of Pittsburgh Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation

Project Brief

For decades, a dilapidated eyesore sat on Phipps’ lush urban campus. Where others may have torn the building down, the Phipps saw an exciting challenge—if they transformed it into one of the greenest buildings in the world, it would prove that any building can become green and could showcase to the garden’s half a million annual guests learn that they are beautiful and comfortable places to live, learn, work and play.

In 2019, Phipps opened an adaptive reuse of the original building as the Exhibit Staging Center (ESC) with a dynamic, modernized design and the ambitious goal of achieving three of the world’s most rigorous building standards: Living Building Challenge, LEED® and WELL Platinum. The former dilapidated 1960s windowless public works building now showcases the latest green building technology, transforming a degraded space on a former brownfield into a place dedicated to the well-being of its occupants and visitors, the site’s ecology and the habitat of native species. The net-positive ESC demonstrates that with the right priorities, even the least healthy spaces can enhance the health of people and the ecosystem in which they are nested.

Project Innovation/Need

Exhibit, maintenance, and grounds staff, a group whose well-being is often overlooked, are the primary occupants of the ESC. The ESC is designed to ensure that the health and well-being of all staff members are a top priority. Additional features available to all Phipps staff that encourage physical and mental well-being include a yoga studio, fitness center, and meditation room.

The challenges of COVID-19 demonstrated the importance of crisis management planning and implementation. Extreme weather has become increasingly pervasive. Last summer, Pittsburgh was defined by heat waves and drought, punctuated by flash flooding and mudslides. These were stark tests of resiliency, and the buildings at Phipps performed exceedingly well.

Specifically, the ESC is net-positive, generating more electricity than the building demands, and has two weeks of battery backup available at all times. This, paired with its water capture and treatment systems, allows it to operate off the grid. The ESC and other net-zero buildings on campus do not have electricity or water bills, relieving at least one financial stressor. Because of Phipps’ approach to energy efficiency and green building, we are better positioned for future issues. Phipps’ ability to weather these storms while focusing on the health and safety of our staff and guests are a testament to the fact that building green is economically, socially and ecologically viable.

Design Challenge

This project included converting an building that was originally built as a maintenance garage into a multi-purpose space now utilized as a workshop, administrative offices, storage facilities and fitness and yoga areas. The ESC was designed to achieve the Living Building Challenge (LBC), LEED® Platinum and WELL Platinum. Meeting the requirements of ¬¬these rigorous certifications posed unique challenges.

For example, the mechanical systems are at the bleeding edge of technologies available requiring constant communication of multiple teams, engineers and designers and the trades coordinating in ways that are not typical.

Achieving the Materials petal of the LBC was quite challenging. The project could not include any products found on the “Red List,” a bevy of materials and chemicals that can have negative health impacts but are commonly found in building materials. To meet these specific criteria, the team diligently worked through considerable paperwork, including advocating to manufacturers whose products include Red List materials or authority having jurisdictions when codes ran counter to the Red List.

At times, the needs of the individual requirements conflicted. For example, because of market limitations, some materials that were identified to be Red List-compliant were only available from overseas suppliers. However, these distances were beyond the requirements of other certifications stating materials must be sourced from within specific distances. Additionally, the limited market for some of these compliant materials increased lead times required, impacting the project timeline. Comprehensive materials vetting and research, as well as frequent communication with suppliers mitigated delays as much as possible.


The ESC’s project site, a remediated brownfield, has been restored as a safe environment for people, plants and animals.

Rooftop photovoltaics generate 105% (65,000 kWh) of annual energy demand. The innovative lighting system is powered via DC electricity created by rooftop PVs. The ESC’s entire lighting scheme could run on a single 20-amp circuit. To avoid waste, a battery bank stores two weeks of power backup if needed.

Seven vertical geothermal wells are integrated into the radiant heating and cooling floor system.

Windows and adjustable solar tubes are placed amply and strategically to maximize daylighting and minimize the use of harsh overhead lights. Windows have an automatic feature to open when sensors detect that the air quality is good outside.

The ESC and adjacent site manages all precipitation that falls on it, averaging 4.5 million gallons annually. This is especially important in Pittsburgh, which has a combined sewer infrastructure that results in the municipal water system. All sanitary water is cleaned on-site through a chemical-free constructed wetland system and re-used for toilet flushing. The lagoon stores rainwater and replicates the natural treatment processes of marshes and wetlands on site.

The ESC vestibule features a green roof and a vegetative green screen wall, further enhancing the building’s biophilic connections.

The building is accessible from many of the toxic chemicals typically found in building materials, and local materials include sandstone and native, responsibly-harvested black locust, a native species with a very hard wood and no need for pressure treatment, was used.

This award celebrates the design process and product of planning, designing and constructing form, space and ambience that reflect functional, technical, social, and aesthetic considerations. Consideration given for material selection, technology, light and shadow. 
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