Frick Environmental Center: Pittsburgh’s Newest Living Building Nears Completion

Construction at the Frick Environmental Center is nearing completion, and GBA recently received an updated sneak peek tour of Pittsburgh’s newest Living Building. (It will be Pittsburgh’s second Living Building and one of only twelve in the world!) Its design is focused on 7 key performance areas, or “petals,” as per the Living Building Challenge certification program: site, water, energy, materials, health, equity, and beauty.

Frick Environmental Center rendering / Image:

Frick Environmental Center rendering by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects  / Image:

During our tour, we saw how the Center is focusing on these diverse design targets. Here’s a breakdown:


The building is located at the edge of woodlands and blends nicely into the surrounding ecosystems with its constructed wetland and variety of native trees and plants. The large windows bring the beauty of nature inside, and will have features to prevent bird collisions.


The parking lot is covered by a slanted canopy that will collect rainwater in an underground cistern. This water will be treated and reused in the historic fountain and to flush toilets. Pervious pavers at the entry drive will also aid in storm water infiltration.


The same canopy that covers the parking lot and collects rainwater will also be home to a PV solar array that will generate more electricity than the building is expected to use. An underground geothermal heat pump will heat the building in the winter through radiant floor heat. Once the facility is open, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will encourage employees at the site to dress appropriately for the weather, reducing the demand on the mechanical system through behavioral change.

Solar array under construction

Solar array under construction


A watershed sculpture, lots of natural lighting, and organically spaced pillars on the south side of the building are biophilic elements that mirror nature and serve to provide comfort and ease.


Not only were building materials sourced locally whenever possible, but the outdoor wooden furniture was also built using trees recently cut in Frick Park at the construction site. You can’t get more local than that.


The facility meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards of accessibility, with wheelchair access in and around the facility (including accessible woodland trails). The Center is also equipped with a telecoil hearing loop. This technology will be used during events and programs to wirelessly send sound to participants using certain types of hearing aids and cochlear implants.


The FEC is surrounded by scenic woodlands, which serve as great inspiration for the facility as a center for environmental education. The building also embraces rain. The watershed sculpture will direct rain around the building and to the wetlands, while rain rolling off the slanted roof will create a beautiful rain veil.

The Frick Environmental Center’s design and construction is made possible through the collaboration of the following organizations on the project team:

Architecture: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Construction Manager: PJ Dick
Landscape Architecture: La Quatra Bonci Associates
Structural Engineer: Barber & Hoffman
Civil Engineer: H.F. Lenz Company
MEP+FP Engineer: RAM-TECH Engineers
Sustainability Consultant: Atelier Ten

It’s inspiring to see the progress being made at the Frick Environmental Center. Be sure to check out the building when it opens later this year. To see how the building will look in the end, check out the renderings.

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