New Bank Skyscraper: World’s Greenest?


The owners of a new Pittsburgh skyscraper are billing the building as the greenest of its kind in the world.

The 33-story Tower at PNC Plaza opened for business during the first week of October, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It will serve as the home to what has become the nation’s seventh-largest bank and was built with sustainability in mind.

“It’s an important moment, certainly for PNC, but more importantly perhaps for the city and the broader region,” PNC’s CEO told the daily newspaper recently during a media event at the new tower.

Green From Top to Bottom

Some of the “greenest” features of the new $400 million bank headquarters in the city’s downtown neighborhood include a solar chimney; a double-skinned façade to allow in fresh air; and the building’s own water recycling and treatment plant, the daily paper said.

Between the façade and the solar chimney, the building is expected to be able to ventilate naturally 42 percent of the year. The water treatment plant is proclaimed to be the most advanced in the U.S. and will recycle and treat rain water and wastewater for flushing, cooling and irrigation of on-site flora, according to the Post-Gazette.

There’s also an indoor park for the building’s 2,200 employees, all of whom will call the building home by January, according to the daily newspaper.

Questioning the Superlative

But while some are touting that the building is a model of sustainability, an alternative newspaper in Pittsburgh has questioned just how green the building really is.

In a Wednesday (Oct. 7) article in the Pittsburgh City Paper, the writer notes that the building might be green, but may not be even the greenest building inside the city’s limits.

Although the new PNC building will operate with half of the energy usually consumed by a conventional office building, it will use 26 times more than the still-under-construction Frick Environmental Center, the alternative paper suggest.

The city also has The Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which recently made news when it was named as the first building to reach the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge, the City Paper notes. To achieve that recognition, a building must have a zero-net water and energy usage on a regular basis.

The new Frick center is attempting to be the second building to achieve the Living Building Challenge.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Frick Center education director Marijke Hecht told the alternative paper. “But we think we can do it.”

Still, the City Paper said, the new PNC building has earned Platinum LEED certification and is a frontrunner in Pittsburgh’s 2030 District building-assessment program. The members of that program aim to cut water and energy usage by 50 percent by 2030, the paper notes.

“I have no doubt they’ll reach a[n even larger] 60 percent reduction goal,” Aurora Sharrard, a civil engineer with the Green Building Alliance, told the City Paper.

The alternative paper reported that the new PNC building was designed by Gensler Architects, Buro Happold Engineering and Paladino Environmental Consultants. Designers created the building’s distinctive shape to take advantage of sun and wind in Pittsburgh—which helps aid in the building’s sustainability from the start.

“It couldn’t be [located] anywhere else,” principal design architect Hao Ko told the City Paper.

Features and Benefits

The Post-Gazette said other features contribute to the building’s model of sustainability. Between the inner and outer façade is a catwalk where employees can take a break. A “good day indicator” light lets them know if the weather conditions for that are OK.

But if it isn’t, the control room—which the daily newspaper likens to “something right out of NASA”—will know that someone has opened the door when he or she should not have.

Other amenities, according to the Post-Gazette, include:

  • Workstations with legs to raise them off the floor, which aids in natural ventilation;
  • A lobby chandelier, called the Beacon, that uses a color-coded system to show energy use on each floor;
  • Individual ventilation systems in each bathroom stall;
  • Recycling bins on each end of the indoor park; and
  • Pop-out windows and inner façade vents that will help maintain indoor temperature and airflow.

Meanwhile, outside experts seem to agree with PNC’s claims that the building is the greenest in the world.

“I think it’s worthy of being considered,” architect and principal of the sustainable design firm evolvEA told the City Paper.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; Green building; Green design; LEED; North America; Solar; Sustainability; Ventilation

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