Frick Environmental Center

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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““It’s always been about how we’re able to work together, in order to be able to produce something that we can hand to the next generation . . . [We celebrate] not only a Center, but . . . the collaboration of a city coming together to make it happen.””
Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh

Process

Introduction

The Frick Environmental Center, the first free and public, municipally-owned, Living Building Challenge-targeted project in existence, is a world-class center for experiential environmental education. A joint venture between the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the new Environmental Center acts as a gateway to Frick Park and embodies the “neighborhood to nature” ideal that served as inspiration for its formation more than 80 years ago.

The Frick Environmental Center includes the new Center; restored historic gatehouses and fountain; visitor parking; a service barn; and extensive landscaping and ecological restoration. The new building, nestled into a sloping hillside, is approached via a walkway and bridge. The building’s exterior, clad in locally and sustainably harvested black locust, blends with the surrounding woods. The environmental center features a public living room and gallery; classrooms for K-12 environmental education programs; and offices, storage, and support space for staff.

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The Nature of Place

Situated on the edge of the wooded Frick Park in Pittsburgh, PA, the Frick Environmental Center bridges the boundary between neighborhoods and nature.

The design builds on historical precedent that was established by both the original Innocenti & Webel Frick Park master plan and John Russell Pope-designed gatehouses. The new four-acre site renews a century-old cycle of stewardship between the city and the park with a design that nestles into the side of the existing slope, sheltered by a simple roof that rests on slender columns.

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Photo credit: © Ed Massery

The Nature of People

The Frick Environmental Center acts as a living classroom for environmental education by providing hands-on opportunities to experience nature and learn about sustainable design. Porous indoor and outdoor spaces showcase panoramic views and provide multi-sensory learning experiences suited for students of all ages and learning styles.

The Frick Environmental Center is a living, learning tool that promotes environmental resource stewardship. A variety of experiential sequences throughout the building and site put sustainable design features on display, encouraging interaction and engagement with elemental processes. The Center was recently awarded LEED Platinum certification, and is currently in the performance review period for the rigorous Living Building Challenge.

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The Nature of Materials

Installations such as the Rain Veil and Rain Ravine, the reimagined historic fountain, the PV Solar Array, and a natural palette of regionally sourced materials all showcase the value and utility of sustainable design and aim to instill current and future generations with the pride of ownership and understanding that begets long-term stewardship.Black Locust wood, concrete, aluminum, steel, and glass are arranged to harmonize with the surrounding forest. The authentic palette of regionally sourced materials are intended to weather and patina with the seasons.

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Project Data

Location:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dates:
2011 - 2016
Clients:
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Size:
15,600 SF

Awards/Honors

2017
Special Project of the Year - Transportation, Building & Construction Awards
Green GOOD DESIGN Award
Wood Design Regional Excellence Award
Green Building Alliance, Leadership Award
2016
Sustainability Award
1998
Honor Award