Green building is good building practice. A popular slogan nowadays, design and facilities professionals are putting these words into practice. By recognizing the benefits of building practices that respect the individual, the community, and the planet, building owners, architects, and engineers are creating new rules, as well as remarkable, highly efficient facilities. Sound green practices have led to high-performance commercial spaces that operate with lower costs and increased worker satisfaction.
For most people, B&O Railroad is a spot on the board during a rousing game of Monopoly. In Pittsburgh, the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad was a once thriving complex. Eventually, however, it sat idle – an under-used rail yard in the city’s central business district. Instead of an eyesore, building owner PNC Financial Services Group saw an opportunity. With careful analysis, PNC transformed the old B&O into PNC Firstside Center, the largest U.S. Green Building Council’s certified building achieving a Silver level award under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
PNC Financial Services Group had a need to relocate several business groups in 1997. As a result, the bank decided to consolidate its services for the Midwest region in a new facility in Pittsburgh. This would be a mission-critical facility with high availability concerns.
By selecting the abandoned railroad station and yard, the bank chose a brownfield site that would bring new life to a historic, yet forgotten section of Pittsburgh. Additionally, it would ensure ease in public transportation to its employees. Enter architectural/engineering firm L.D. Astorino companies, based in Pittsburgh, which had experience working in numerous commercial fields, from healthcare to education.
From the beginning, the building process was supported by superior communication among the owner, architect, engineer, and construction manager. The building’s large floorplate of 125,000 square feet allowed for effective workspace layout and interior daylighting.
From the initial stages, the building owner wanted to create the facility with green design. “You have to get commitment from the client. We were working with a very informed client, so the process was cooperative and open,” says Christopher Haupt, corporate vice president and principal, Development and Regional Operations, L.D. Astorino Companies, Pittsburgh. The building team collaborated on sustainable design issues with several environmental groups: Paladino, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics, and Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance.
“[Green design] was not so much a statement as much as it was ingrained in their thinking,” says Haupt. During project development, LEED became one of the many checklists used in the facility’s design and construction. The building team worked with the research and design departments of several manufacturers to obtain environmentally sensitive interior products. At the same time, the center was designed to conceptually represent the building owner to the community.
Each new product was reviewed for its return on investment ability. “The Astorino knowledge-based system is a pre-design process that we use with all the key stakeholders to identify not just problematic issues, but also corporate strategic issues,” says Haupt. The upfront savings of other products carefully balanced any increased upfront costs.
The facility is situated on the brownfield site to reduce the impact of its large size. For example, the first floor is tucked into the land so that the street-level main entrances are on the second floor. In the rear, the first floor provides easy access for trucks at its loading docks.
Based on LEED’s standards, over 50 percent of the facility’s materials are recyclable. The building team reviewed all of the project’s products for the use of recycled materials, such as hog’s hair walk-off mats and linoleum flooring. They also reviewed the location of the materials’ production source. To lessen the impact on the environment from excessive shipping, 61 percent of the facility’s materials were shipped from within 500 miles.
Fun for the Entire Family
PNC Financial Services Center’s lighting systems are responsive to the surrounding community. The facility was designed to reduce skyglow. All of the roofing, paving, and landscaping materials were chosen to reduce the “heat island” problem common in large structures. Cascades, waterfalls, and streams dot the landscape and help reduce the ambient temperature at the sidewalk level as well.
These beautiful water elements were also designed to purify without toxic chemicals or an excess of additional fresh water. The building team installed a highly efficient subsurface drip irrigation system that reduces water usage 50 percent. In addition, the center utilizes water-conserving plumbing fixtures and an electromagnetic system (as opposed to chemicals) for water treatment for the HVAC system.
Since mass transit is better for the environment, no on-site parking was provided for employees. This encourages the widespread use of the area’s numerous bus lines, as well as the new light rail transit system. One of the main entrances sits near the major bus routes. The project also encouraged the construction of a large parking garage nearby. If built in the suburbs, this building would have demanded 20 acres of land for parking lots and run-off water management.
Openness is an overall theme in the building. One-third of the site is devoted to open space. PNC Firstside Center is situated with views of the river and the cityscape. In response to the environment and PNC employees’ needs, a large open space on the south side of the site is devoted to an extension of the riverfront bike trail.
To achieve high productivity and employee retention, the building owner recognized the importance of creating employee satisfaction. An extensive sound-masking system generates a peaceful work environment. Added to the bright, cheery light, the overall effect is a pleasant, comfortable environment. Ninety percent of the interior space provides employees with daylight and outside views because of the use of light wells and clerestory windows.
Another aspect of the strong focus on worker satisfaction is the back-up childcare center provided for PNC employees. A gracious cafeteria is a welcomed oasis with its rooftop terrace and spectacular views.
The Object of the Game
“Flexibility was the most important aspect,” says Elmer Burger III, principal, L.D. Astorino, Pittsburgh. The organization has a churn rate of six percent so the facility needed to react to 30 percent of the employees being relocated in a five-year period, in addition to shifting market trends and new technology. As a result, the architecture firm designed the facility to make rapid technological changes. Adds Burger, “[PNC] has numerous business groups that are constantly reinventing themselves to respond to the market, so their space needs change.”
To achieve the needed high flexibility, the facility was designed with modular flooring. As a result, relocation costs dropped to $300 per employee. Carpet tiles, as well as panel furniture, aid in the center’s reconfigurability. The only full-height walls can be demounted. Large floorplates allow entire departments to share a common space.
Today, the building’s design mimics the downtown street structure with a slice of daylight bisecting the interior space. The use of sunlight also aids in wayfinding. Computer modeling helped analyze the effectiveness of the daylighting.
An innovative hybrid air distribution system has air both below (in the flooring) and above (in the ceiling). In addition to ample space for power, data, and communications, the use of this clever approach has allowed for a tremendous reduction in underfloor ductwork. “We went with modular wiring to save space and an incredible amount of money, because of the ease of installation and reconfiguration,” explains Burger.
Employee comfort was a major consideration. To ensure good indoor air quality, outside air intakes were not placed near auto exhaust areas. The facility’s hybrid air distribution system also delivers maximum user comfort and control. Air flows through the raised floor at occupants’ feet, allowing for effortless user control. For comfort, overhead variable air volume units recirculate cool air.
The building control system regulates the temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. To reduce solar gain, exterior sunshades were added to the structure. Motorized interior shades controlled by solar sensors and linked to a computer system also aid in reducing heat and excess light. All building systems were commissioned for optimum efficiency.
On a Roll
“Many people were skeptical and said it was not economical, but we persisted. We analyzed costs closely … and realized the economy was there,” says Burger. In creating the PNC Firstside Center, the building owner and design team learned that sustainable design is the underlying principle of good business. Costs related to green products and procedures were generally equal to or less than traditional materials and practices over the course of the project. Adds Burger, “The trick is to look at the whole picture.”
In addition to creating a space that respects the needs of its employees and renews its community, the building team has added to a new legacy by respecting the environment. The largest building with a LEED Silver rating, PNC Firstside Center will be studied by future generations to better understand how the built environment can complement the natural environment.
Regina Raiford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.