Press Release: Pittsburgh’s Frick Environmental Center Set to be Greenest Municipal Building in World, Opens to Public September 10th

AUG 31, 2016 

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Frick Environmental Center opens with Public Celebration Saturday, September 10; on track to be among top greenest buildings in world, only one free and open to public

View of Frick Environmental Center from site’s outdoor amphitheater (image credit: © Nic Lehoux)

The new Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park will open to the public on Saturday, September 10th, 2016 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. with a Public Celebration. A project of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the City of Pittsburgh, the Frick Environmental Center is designed to be LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certified, and is on track to be the greenest building in the world that will be free and fully open for public use. Construction began in August of 2014, with final site and building detailing of the new Frick Environmental Center - as well as the last phase of fundraising – now underway. The Public Celebration will include building tours, environmental education program sampling, music and entertainment, food trucks, and the first opportunity for the community to see first-hand the journey involved in achieving net-zero energy building certification.

The new 16,440 square foot Frick Environmental Center building has been constructed to collect as much energy as it uses through innovative design including solar PV panel-covered parking areas, roof rainwater collection, material selection, and on-site geothermal wells. Rainwater collected will be used for the Center’s non-potable water needs, while on-site geothermal wells will provide an energy-saving 50 degree starting point for heating and cooling of the building. Carefully considered ventilation systems will utilize air flow to keep the building cool, while large expanses of windows provide natural light for classrooms, office space, public meeting spaces, and stairwells. The Frick Environmental Center features welcoming indoor learning spaces, a community “living room” gathering space and reception area, and public restrooms and offices, an amphitheater built into the hillside, and native plant and produce gardens. 

The Frick Environmental Center is project of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, with national architecture firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Pittsburgh office leading a team comprising artists, environmental restoration specialists, and engineers, and Pittsburgh-based construction firm PJ Dick bringing their experience with over 50 LEED-certified buildings to the project. Working in close collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh, the Parks Conservancy will manage and operate the Frick Environmental Center and the surrounding 115 acres of the Frick Nature Reserve portion of Frick Park. A key component of Living Building Challenge certification is local sourcing of construction materials, making the Frick Environmental Center a project focused on regional construction supply when appropriate.

The Frick Environmental Center is designed to give those who use it the feeling of being in the treetops of the surrounding woodlands. (image credit: © Nic Lehoux)

Designed as a living classroom, the Frick Environmental Center will provide children from all parts of the city with access to a world-class, state-of-the-art space offering hands-on, experiential environmental education programs. The new center will serve as the classroom base for programming that takes children out into the surrounding woodlands, streams, meadows and trails. The new Frick Environmental Center replaces the old center that burned in 2002, and is being built on the site of its original location in the northwestern quadrant of Frick Park. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s environmental education programs that will operate out of the Frick Environmental Center will include year-round programs like Buzzword (ages 3 – 5), Habitat Explorers (students in grade 1), Park Stewards (grade 4), and Ecosystem Investigators (grades 7-8).  Programs for older students will include High School Urban EcoStewards (grades 9 – 12), Young Naturalists (high school seniors), and OSHER (adults) partnership programs.

Groundbreaking on the Frick Environmental Center began in August 2014, with the tallest point of construction reached in the spring of 2015. Geothermal wells and full enclosure of the building were completed by fall 2015, and interior work, hillside amphitheater, barn and solar panel-covered parking lot were completed by mid-summer of 2016. Interior and site detailing and fountain construction continues throughout early September 2016.  The building and site are designed to be key components in the health of the watershed in which it is located, featuring an underground rainwater storage cistern, constructed wetlands, and carefully-selected landscaping flora.

Since 2011, more than 1,000 individuals have been involved in a public visioning and planning process for the new Frick Environmental Center that included dozens of input sessions. Ideas from the public input process were incorporated into the final project, including an outdoor amphitheater that has Frick Park woodlands as its backdrop, separate entry doors for children alongside full-size doors, and native plant gardens. The Frick Environmental Center honors the vision the Frick family has established over the years in conjunction with its gift of Frick Park to the City.

"The Frick Environmental Center is built to LEED platinum and Living Building Challenge standards---an outstanding building for an outstanding city,” said Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy founder and CEO, Meg Cheever. “Today, smart, resilient, sustainable cities view their public park systems as key community assets. With that in mind, we are delighted to offer the public its first glimpse of this incredible new educational resource for our region. The September 10th Public Celebration will give a sampling of the environmental education programming and community spirit that the Frick Environmental Center embodies. This stunning new building and campus are emblems of our comprehensive focus on connecting urban children, families and residents to the natural world.”

Local artisan-crafted furniture is made from trees retrieved from the Frick Environmental Center site. (image credit – Scott Roller)

Art plays a key role in the Frick Environmental Center, starting with the building’s design by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and weaving throughout the project’s interior and landscaping. A “rain veil” allows users to interact with a 40’ sheet of water during rain events, and Rain Ravine – a channeled water art installation by environmental artist Stacy Levy will make the building a destination on rainy days.  Building details that artfully connect the Frick Environmental Center to both nature and those who will use the Center include organically spaced columns on the building’s south side that emulate the non-linear placement of woodland trees, rough-hewn pieces of road stone from Frick Park incorporated into the stonework of the building’s main masonry wall, and kid-sized doors so children have their own building entrance beside the traditional grownup-sized doors.

Art and learning are key components of site’s landscaping and main entrance. Iron gates at the entrance gatehouses – custom designed by local craftsman – feature botanical shapes, leaves, and flowers. The design of an energy-saving reflective pool and fountain at the western end of the site’s formal tree-lined entrance path has been inspired by the design of a historic fountain once found on the project site.  A From Slavery To Freedom Garden – a collaboration with the Heinz History Center – will feature Pittsburgh-region plants used by escaping slaves for food, medicine, and shelter as they traveled northward to freedom in the 1800s.  Produce and native plant gardens will be cultivated seasonally, and will join the From Slavery to Freedom Garden as living components of the Center’s environmental education programming. The building itself is meant to be a learning tool, with purposely exposed valve work for the geothermal heating and cooling system, untreated black locust siding that will change hue over time to match the tree trunks in the surrounding woodlands, and sensors that let those in the building know when to open windows to set natural ventilation into effect among the features meant to spark conversations about nature, the environment, and sustainability.

The rain-or-shine, family-friendly September 10th Frick Environmental Center Public Celebration is free and open to all, and will feature guided tours, entertainment for all ages including magicians and face-painters, music, renewable-powered food trucks, and a Pittsburgh Parks Summer Reading Series performance of poetry and prose by Autumn House Press in the outdoor amphitheater. Guided tours include a Living Building Challenge tour, and grounds and building tours that will shine light on the Frick Environmental Center’s design, energy components, art installations, accessibility, and history. Free environmental education programming samplers will be offered, including Fun with SeedballsCritters in the Litter, and Tree ID

Media inquiries – including interview requests, guided building and site media tours, or high-resolution images - please contact Scott Roller, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Senior Manager Communications and Creative at, or 412.682.7275 ex 220 or 412.275.0023.

Image credit: use of Nic Lehoux images is permitted, with this attribution:  image credit © Nic Lehoux. Use of Scott Roller image is permitted with this attribution: image credit Scott Roller.

Additional high-resolution images are available upon request.

Image captions and credits (from top to bottom): 

Image one (building at night):  View of Frick Environmental Center from site’s outdoor amphitheater (image credit: © Nic Lehoux)

Image two (building with tree): The Frick Environmental Center is designed to give those who use it the feeling of being in the treetops of the surrounding woodlands. (image credit: © Nic Lehoux)

Image three (hand-made furniture):  Local artisan-crafted furniture is made from trees retrieved from the Frick Environmental Center site. (image credit – Scott Roller)

About the Frick Environmental Center partners:

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy was founded in December 1996 by a group of citizens concerned with the deteriorating conditions of Pittsburgh's historic city parks. A nonprofit organization, the Parks Conservancy works closely with the City of Pittsburgh under an official public-private partnership agreement to restore and improve the city’s park system to its full potential. Originally including Highland, Schenley, Frick, and Riverview Parks, the scope of the Park Conservancy’s work now includes a focus on community parks including Allegheny Commons, Arsenal Park, August Wilson Park, McKinley Park, and Mellon Park. To date, the Parks Conservancy has raised $93 million toward park improvements.

Founded in 1965, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is a national architecture practice noted for elegant and humane design, ranging from modest houses to large academic, civic, cultural and corporate buildings. To date, the firm has received more than 650 regional, national and international awards for design, including three AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Project Awards and the AIA Architecture Firm Award. In 2010, Founding Principal Peter Bohlin was awarded the AIA Gold Medal, the highest honor an individual architect can receive. The firm is well known for its work with Apple, designing stores such as the iconic Fifth Avenue cube in New York City and flagship stores worldwide. The practice has also created headquarters for Pixar, Adobe and Square, and city halls in Seattle and Newport Beach, CA. For more information please visit

PJ Dick has managed more than $9 billion in construction activity in the Mid-Atlantic region and is consistently ranked one of the Top 100 Builders in the nation by Engineering News Record Magazine. For over three decades, they have provided comprehensive construction services in the areas of general contracting, design-build, construction management, preconstruction, and project management. Having constructed more than 50+ LEED projects, PJ Dick has built more USGBC Certified LEED buildings in the region than any other local contractor.