A Platinum-Certified Green Site


At Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the grounds surrounding its Center for Sustainable Landscapes earned top SITES certification.

Located in Pittsburgh, PA, the 2.9 acre site features 100 native plant species, water conserving design, and other practices that significantly lighten the environmental impact of this landscape. The facility was certified SITES Platinum in 2019.

Here is an overview of the project, and how the landscape design fits into the facility’s overall sustainable focus.

In 2012, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, PA opened the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL). Today, this is the world’s first and only facility to meet these five green building standards—the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum, WELL Building Platinum, SITES Platinum, and, most recently, BREEAM Outstanding In-Use. CSL is a research, education, and administration facility designed to meet net-positive energy use with renewable energy produced on site, captures all stormwater, treats all sanitary water, and uses 70% less energy than a conventional office building. Its design blurs the line between built and natural environments; the sun, earth and wind are used to light, heat and cool the interior, plants clean wastewater for reuse, and every occupied space has views of nature.

The CSL site, and now landscaping, represented an ecological rebirth for the location. Previously, the 2.9-acre site was a City of Pittsburgh Public Works Yard, entirely paved over and portions classified as a brownfield. There were no existing natural land covers or ecosystems to preserve or protect.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
With the site of the Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Design brought back to life from a brownfields site in Pittsburgh, PA, the project reintroduced 100 native plant species to the surrounding area. (Photo: The Sustainable Sites Initiative)


Now, the site can now manage a 95th percentile storm event using soil and vegetation based systems, and features 1.5 acres of new green space with over 100 native plant species. From open meadows to oak woodlands, to water’s edge and wetland plantings, a range of ecosystems are represented on-site that respond to the dramatic changes in topography.

The biodiverse plantings provide food, shelter and nesting opportunities to endemic wildlife and also help link the site’s landscape to neighboring 450-acre Schenley Park, Pittsburgh’s second largest green space. Central to the CSL landscape is a 4,000 square foot lagoon that is fed by conservatory roof runoff and populated with native fish and turtles. A visitor to the CSL can learn about the beauty and benefits of native plant communities, green infrastructure and its role in improving local water quality, and also see the wildlife, both terrestrial and aquatic, that the site’s regenerative landscape is designed to preserve and protect. These features of the CSL landscape are open to the public, providing opportunities to promote sustainability awareness through educational programming and interpretive elements as part of a garden experience.

The landscape architecture firm that was part of the CSL project for the facility’s design and construction process is Andropogen Associates in Philadelphia, PA.

Next Level Landscape

In Spring 2019, Phipps announced that the CSL was the first project in the world to be certified at the SITES Platinum level under The Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES) v2 Rating System. Owned and administered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), SITES is a comprehensive program for designing, developing, and maintaining sustainable landscapes.

SITES-certified projects are also aimed at landscapes that are better able to withstand and recover from floods, droughts, wildfires, and other catastrophic events.

When it opened in 2012, the CSL was the first and only project to receive SITES 2009 Pilot Four Star certification. In order to achieve this recently earned SITES v2 certification, the CSL needed to meet the new requirements of that rating system, which builds on the SITES 2009 pilot rating system.

To learn more about the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, visit www.PhippsConservatory.org. Want to find out more about The SITES Sustainable Initiative? Visit www.SustainableSites.org.

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