GBA + Monmade Pittsburgh Glass Center Tour – September 2021

GBA + Monmade | Pittsburgh Glass Center Tour| September 2021

A guest post by Shayna Bodi, Monmade

Continuing the exploration of artisans intersecting with the built environment series, the Green Building Alliance and Monmade teamed up again for an expert tour of the Pittsburgh Glass Center on September 30th, 2021. Unlike the recent Roundhouse tour, which was a historic renovation project, the Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) is an existing building constructed in 2001 (20 years ago), earned its LEED Gold certification in 2006, and remains a learning model for maker spaces and green building construction.

Many Thanks to our expert panel of speakers:

  • Chris Klehm, LEED Fellow, LEED Reviewer – Vice President of Sustainability – Jendoco Construction
  • Chris Clarke – Director of Operations – Pittsburgh Glass Center
  • Jason Forck – Director of Programs – Pittsburgh Glass Center – Penn/Fairmount Studios
  • Leslie Montgomery – Director of Education – Green Building Alliance
  • Shayna Bodi – LEED AP – Sustainability Consultant – Monmade

The Pittsburgh Glass Center is a nonprofit, public-access education center; an art gallery; a state-of-the-art glass studio; a community builder; and a hub for innovation and creativity. “GLASS ART: WE TEACH IT. WE CREATE IT. WE PROMOTE IT. WE SUPPORT THOSE WHO MAKE IT.” PGC website  This very simple statement from the Pittsburgh Glass Center clearly demonstrates their approach to the development of their community. Our collaborative tour showcased not only an innovative space and its artisans, it was an exploration of history, functionality, creativity, and true commitment to sustainability.

The accomplishments of this building include being the first LEED certified (Gold) public arts facility in 2001, a true pioneer at the time, and it received an AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) award in 2005 . “The impact of the Pittsburgh Glass Center with regard to urban revitalization cannot be understated, and the site location is one of the project’s most important sustainable measures — not specifically for its environmental impact, but rather for its long-term contribution toward the stability and vitality of its urban neighborhood.” (as stated in the AIA COTE Top 10 Summary)

The PGC is now celebrating 20 years as a high-performance building and a model for other public art studios and maker spaces throughout the country. Chris Klehm, the LEED consultant, and GC for the project talked about the creative approach, thinking outside-the-box, and tight budget solutions for the project. Chris Clarke, Director of Operations for the Pittsburgh Glass Center, took us on a tour of the space and explained in detail the ‘then and now’ green building attributes of the design and performance. Both professionals were involved in the original construction and had unique perspectives of the design, the upkeep, and maintenance of the building through the years. Interestingly, the parking lot remains a sore subject for both professionals dealing with a variety of issues related to the permeable paving and stormwater systems.

The center was an adaptive reuse of a vacant existing building. The previous use for the building was an automotive repair shop, and the project team reused a lot of materials and kept a lot of the structural components that were already on-site like doors, windows, and walls. Connectivity to the neighborhood and the surrounding community was also a priority, large picture windows allow the community to see inside the space and be part of the activities within. One of the biggest challenges in design was how to keep the interior cool despite the very hot temperatures that are coming from the glass melting furnaces. Here are a few key green features of this existing building designed for optimum performance:

  • About 94% of the project’s shell and structure was reused, and about 14%, by cost, of the building materials were salvaged.
  • 51% of the new building materials, by cost, were recycled, per LEED calculations, and 67% were manufactured within 500 miles of the project.
  • About 80% of all construction waste, by weight, was diverted from the landfill.
  • Large windows provide a lot of natural light (estimated at 82% interior naturally daylit) and operable garage doors allow increased airflow and ventilation.
  • Heating and cooling systems include the use of multiple air handlers, energy-recovery ventilators, hot-water radiant-floor heating, and 100% capacity fresh-air economizers.
  • In the heating months, nearly all of the building’s heat is processed for energy recovery. Approximately 63% of the building can be ventilated or cooled with operable windows.
  • The thermal mass of the exposed brick walls, concrete slabs, and cement-board panels curbs the swing of temperatures. A fiber-cement panel system intended for exterior use was used for the walls of all interior spaces, with the exception of the gallery.
  • The building has seven low-flow, pressure-assisted toilets, one water free urinal, and six lavatory sinks with flow-control faucets. Showers, which are included in the bathrooms on the second floor, have flow-controlled shower heads.

After a very thorough tour and discussion of the design and construction, guests were treated to a LIVE demonstration of glass blowing from Jason Forck, Director of Programs for the PGC and artisan for Penn/Fairmount. Jason made it look so easy and before our eyes created a lovely shaped glass cup. Anyone can learn to create their own glass pieces at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Glass Art education classes are available for any level and with a lot of flexibility to accommodate busy schedules. The PGC is also celebrating 20 years of service to the community with an exhibition called ‘Gathered Locally’ that will be on display until January 18th, 2022.

Takeaways and Fun Facts about our speakers that we learned on this tour include:

  • Though having an extensive career in sustainability and construction, the Pittsburgh Glass Center remains one of Chris Klehm’s favorite projects. His advice is to not start with LEED, do the best you can and work backwards. Don’t lose sight of the big picture!
  • All of the tables in the Flame Shop are from an old school building that Chris Clarke found and is very proud of saving them for their reuse. They are also really cool and totally old-school.
  • Jason started as an apprentice at the Glass Center in 2005 and was also one of the original artisans and part of the pilot program with Monmade. He still feels like he is still learning in his own glass blowing technique (though you could never tell by his amazing expertise).

Many Thanks to all of the speakers and participants that made this tour one of the best that I have experienced in a very long time. For those that missed this tour, Monmade and the Green Building Alliance will be collaborating again in the Spring with the final tour of this series at the popular maker space in Wilkinsburg, Protohaven. Details will be announced at a much later date, so stay tuned!

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