Going with the Flow: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Builds First Passive House Certified Library in North America

CLP Carrick

Image courtesy of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

The Carrick Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) will be the first Passive House certified library in North America. This significant green building achievement tells the story of Pittsburgh: a community for all, where everyone has access to learning opportunities and has access to healthy, safe spaces.

What’s the coolest feature of the first Passive House certified library in North America? “The client,” according to Brandon Nicholson, founding principal at Nicholson Kovalchik Architects. Designed by Nicholson Kovalchik Architects and Thoughtful Balance, the building reflects the library’s role in its community. “We thought about how libraries create a flow of information and how Passive House is about the flow of air and water,” explains Nicholson.

A two-story library without an elevator, the library moves the patrons throughout the space through a flow pattern of ramps and staircases, creating access for all patrons while reducing energy consumption. In fact, the building doubles the size of the previous branch while reducing energy consumption by an estimated 70%. Rainwater gardens installed on-site direct the flow of rainwater back into the water table. The natural light on-site flows into the building through large windows. Triple-glazed, those windows can maintain acoustic and thermal comfort. The filtration systems filter pollution from the incoming air stream. That constant air flow won’t increase carbon dioxide—even when occupancy goes up.

To further the flow of information, the library will be able to engage the entire community with sustainable building. Not only will the mechanical systems be exposed for patrons to see when visiting the library, but the CLP is also creating resources on the project available both in print and online so that people can learn more about sustainable building and ways they can reduce their energy use at home.

Moreover, the new branch is also a part of Pittsburgh’s flow of ideas. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was founded by its namesake Andrew Carnegie.  One of the richest men in the world, Carnegie gave an estimated $60,000,000, creating nearly 1,7000 public and free “palaces for the people” open to “women, children, all races.” Carnegie completely reshaped who libraries serve and what they do for their communities, even founding the first children’s library training school in Pittsburgh. Today, thanks in large part to Carnegie’s investments, Pittsburgh consistently ranks among the top fifteen most literate cities in the country.

But Carnegie’s wealth—that funded those libraries—came at a great climate cost.  A captain of industry, Carnegie made his wealth in steel and mining, contributing to Pittsburgh’s status as the “smoky city.” Despite clean-up efforts, even today, Pittsburgh school children have a childhood asthma rate of 22%―almost twice the national average.

Yet, from this environmental crisis, the Pittsburgh region has risen to the challenge and is building its own legacy of green design. And CLP has actively helped merge those two distinct regional legacies. “Our mission is literacy and learning, and that means being good neighbors for our communities—making sure we have buildings that are ADA accessible and environmentally friendly,” explains Suzanne Thinnes, manager of communications at CLP.

Thus, CLP has been experimenting with sustainable buildings as it began working on its Libraries for LIFE Capital Fund project in 2003. Through the fund, it renovated and restored 16 library buildings across the region, four of which are LEED Silver Certified. The systematic upgrades have modernized libraries, making them ADA compliant and energy efficient.

In 2014 CLP began experimenting with Passive House. It decided to move its Hazelwood Branch into the Hazelwood Center, a Passive House inspired community center and non-profit space designed by Thoughtful Balance. Though the building didn’t quite reach certification, its low-energy design doubled the space while reducing energy overall consumption—even after later installing an elevator and a kitchen.

So, when CLP began to think about remodeling its one-story, storefront Carrick Branch remodel in 2017, it chose to pursue Passive House Certification again to expand the size of the original storefront building, create a better occupant experience, and reduce energy costs—through that overarching concept of flow.

Can’t wait to check it out for yourself? CLP is offering several events its opening weekend. The Carrick Grand Reopening Preview Reception will be Thursday, October 18, 2018. The North American Passive House Network will tour the building during its Pittsburgh-based conference, which will be held October 17-21. There will also be a Carrick Community Day on October 20th featuring activities for kids, teens, and adults.

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