The Frick Environmental Center, the first municipally-owned, Living Building Challenge-targeted project in existence, will be a world-class center for experiential environmental education. As a joint venture between the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the new Environmental Center will serve as a gateway to Frick Park—the city’s largest public park at 644-acres—and embody the “neighborhood to nature” ideal that served as inspiration for its formation more than 80-years ago.
The Frick Environmental Center encompasses nearly four-acres of development, including restored historic gatehouses and fountain; visitor parking; a service barn; extensive landscaping and ecological restoration; and the new Environmental Center. The entrance to the site, marked by a pair of stone gatehouses, leads to a formal allée of native trees and plantings. The new building, nestled into a sloping hillside, is approached via a walkway and bridge, which allows visitors to engage with the park beyond from the elevation of the tree canopy. The building’s exterior, clad in locally and sustainably harvested black locust, blends with the surrounding woods, evoking a tree house quality. Inside, full-height wood windows emanate warmth and allow for expansive views of the park. The 15,600-square-foot facility features a public living room and gallery; classrooms for K-12 environmental education programs operated by the Parks Conservancy; and offices, storage, and support space for Parks Conservancy staff.
To meet Living Building and LEED Platinum challenges, this project will achieve on-site net zero energy and net zero water through many components, including a 650-kilowatt photovoltaic array; geothermal heating and cooling system; locally sourced non-toxic building materials; continuous daylight dimming controls and occupancy sensors; and a reclaimed water system. Inspired by the clients’ mission to educate and engage, the project incorporates these and other features as interactive elements in the building and site design, providing children and families from the Pittsburgh region with hands-on environmental education, and fulfilling the Environmental Center’s role as a “living laboratory.”