Preview: Tower at PNC Plaza

What does it take to build the one of the greenest office towers in the world? According to Paladino and Company, the sustainability consultant for the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, preparation is key. We spoke with Tom Paladino ahead of next week’s A Skyscraper that Breathes panel featuring project architect Doug Gensler and mechanical engineer Denzil Gallagher of BuroHappold.

To set the bar for the design team, Paladino conducted a global scan of buildings in Europe, Canada, Australia and the U.S. with similar sustainability claims to examine their impact and performance. The project team visited a number of peer buildings to experience and cherry-pick the best elements of each; the Tower at PNC Plaza is essentially an amalgam of the most effective innovations, the standout feature being the natural ventilation system comprised of a double skin façade and a solar chimney.

Although analysis of local conditions from humidity to pollen count showed that this unprecedented ventilation system was feasible and could be operated over a third of the year, constructing the system proved a challenge. Testing with a 1,200 square foot mockup helped reveal and solve major issues affecting temperature, daylight, and ventilation. Paladino shared that this prototyping approach yielded time and budget savings worth over $5 million.

Since completion last October, the Tower’s ample sunlight, fresh air, and variety of spaces have been very well received by PNC employees. Occupant engagement with the building’s systems and performance is built into the design, with “good day” indicators on ceilings that literally give users the green light to open windows. The building management system also alerts operations staff to close the façades when conditions are no longer ideal. A centerpiece sculpture called The Beacon relays real-time building performance data using light, color, sound and text to all passing by the PNC lobby.

Other notable efficiency features include wastewater recycling, rainwater collection, and an energy recovery wheel for pre-conditioning intake air. Beyond cutting environmental impacts and costs, the project team also aimed to boost staff engagement and productivity, as well as PNC’s reputation in the community. Every staff member was primed with an introduction to the building’s features at town hall meetings prior to move-in. Self-selected staff from all departments and levels have also been trained as “green ambassadors” with deep building knowledge to help provide tours and answers to inquisitive occupants.

Hear more about the energy modeling and analyses behind designing the Tower at PNC Plaza from the project leaders on Wednesday, February 10 at Con Edison.

About the authors

Rena Lee
Rena is the Communications Associate at Urban Green Council.