BREEAM score Outstanding for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

BREEAM score Outstanding for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Designed to be energy efficient, The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens gained a BREEAM rating of Outstanding.


Designed and built to generate all of its own energy while treating and reusing all water captured on-site, the first facility in the world to meet four of the world’s highest green construction standards- now adds the distinctive BREEAM Outstanding In-Use rating to its resume.



Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, encompasses 15 acres including a 14-room glasshouse and 23 distinct gardens. Opened in 1893, the historic landmark is just a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh in Schenley Park.


Speaking on the goal of the project and the partnership with BREEAM, a Phipps spokesperson shared, “We believe that public gardens have a role to play in mitigating the challenge of climate change, and we believe the answer lies in regenerative thinking that extends to our buildings, programs and operations. BREEAM In-Use is an essential milestone in this effort, as it demonstrates the results of that transformation, and the value of changing the way we see the world.”


Designed to operate efficiently, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) project demanded goals that had never been accomplished before. The stringent parameters required by the robust building certifications needed an integrative design process with well-defined goals shared by the entire design team and the owner. These “limits” served as catalysts for creative and innovative solutions that define the forefront of sustainable design.

The CSL had to overcome an range of challenges to set new standards for efficiency and occupant health. The sun, earth and wind had to be optimized to light, heat and cool the interior; all water had to be captured and treated onsite for reuse; every occupied space had to afford views of nature; a lifeless brownfield project site had to be rebuilt from scratch to host thriving, eco-regionally appropriate plant communities; and all materials suppliers had to disclose their products’ content to meet a stringent toxic materials red list. On top of these environmental challenges, the building had to integrate not only into its landscape but into the guest experience at Phipps, ensuring that hundreds of thousands of annual guests would observe its benefits and take home the message that ambitious green strategy is possible in their own workplaces, communities and even homes.

To achieve the ambitious goals of the CSL, two years of bi-monthly charrettes brought together building and landscape architects, designers, engineers, energy and lighting experts, consultants, modelers, academics, contractors, estimators, future occupants, community members and other stakeholders. This holistic, facilitated integrated design process capitalized on collective wisdom and shortened feedback loops, both essential to realizing the success of this project. Today, measurement and verification continue as the CSL has been offered to local universities as the subject of a vast array of original research projects investigating biophilic design and infrastructure, green building performance, green roof efficacy and biodiversity, brownfield restoration, biodiversity in urban lots, the developmental basis of science learning, and the physical and psychological benefits of human contact with nature.


The core function of the CSL is to increase awareness of the interconnection between the natural and built environment, and the efficacy of sustainable systems. By employing a design that invites exploration while seamlessly integrating with the guest experience of Phipps — a 125-year-old institution which receives over 500,000 visitors annually — the CSL is uniquely positioned to showcase renewable energy technologies, conservation strategies, water treatment systems, and sustainable landscaping to a broad audience, including many engaging with these topics for the first time.

While the CSL was not designed with a goal of meeting the BREEAM standard, the achievement of the Outstanding In-Use rating demonstrates that the building operates as if it were. This exciting new distinction proves the value of utilizing certification standards in tandem for a holistic approach to building performance assessment while connecting Phipps to a larger international audience of green building professionals.

Speaking on the success of the partnering with BREEAM, Phipps President and CEO Richard Piacentini, shared, “We, at Phipps, are increasingly finding ourselves on an international stage when sharing our experience with the Center for Sustainable Landscapes….The addition of a BREEAM rating helps us to communicate the value of green building to new audiences while placing us in the company of some of the world’s most innovative sustainable building projects.”

Key benefits of the project include:

  • Phipps has a dedicated Facilities Team that manages and maintains the entire campus in a sustainable manner

  •  Sustainable operations and maintenance plan and policies are in place to support the Team

  • Since the CSL site was a brownfield and as part of the Phipps mission, Phipps performed environmental assessments and created a biodiversity action plan that informed the design and construction process and will regenerate the site over time

  • Phipps pays special attention to specifying and purchasing products and materials that are robust, contain minimal amounts of embodied energy and water, are circular (Cradle to Cradle), and contain no Red List chemicals, all to promote a healthy environment, interior and exterior, and increase occupant health and productivity

  • Natural hazard management (e.g., wildfire, landslides, etc.)

  • Phipps is dedicated to energy conservation, was designed with efficient wall (thermal boundary), glazing and ventilation systems, is a Net Zero Energy Building, maintains a robust Building Automation System, and sub-meters energy so the Facilities Team can analyze data and address issues as they arise

  • Phipps is dedicated to water conservation, is a Net Zero Water Building, maintains a robust Building Automation System, maintains an innovative water reclamation system, and sub-meters water so the Facilities Team can analyze data and address issues as they arise

  • The innovative water reclamation system depends, somewhat, on stormwater collection. Between 50-75% of the CSL water consumption is from alternative sources. In a wetter year, the percentage may be closer to 100%

  • Phipps is dedicated to wellness, occupant health and productivity, and environmental health

  • Daylighting, glare protection, personal thermal and ventilation controls, attention to IAQ, and the wellness program are particularly well designed and maintained

  • Eliminating the potential for light and chemical pollution on and off-site, especially given adjacency to Schenley Park

  • The innovative stormwater and wastewater collection system contains all water on-site, so it eliminates stormwater run-off pollution and reduces the potential for landslides

  • Since the CSL site was a brownfield and as part of the Phipps mission, Phipps performed environmental assessments and created a biodiversity action plan that informed the design and construction process and will regenerate the site over time

In order to lead on sustainability, locally and globally, we need to set an example. Our work proves its true value when others meet and exceed that example. Certifications like BREAAM In-Use lend authority to our voice and help interpret our work to the world
– Phipps President and CEO Richard Piacentini

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