a brief interview with Sean from the Pittsburgh office of the Green Building Alliance

A HUGE thank you to the Green Building Alliance for taking the time to answer these questions for me. I love how Pittsburgh’s landscape and cityscape has changed since I lived at Point Park University in the late 90s. This office has been one of many forces behind that change.

According to their website the local office was founded in 1993 and was the first US Green Building Council affiliate. I love this text from their About page:

“A Connector: GBA’s members are on the ground building, designing, consulting, commissioning, and advocating for better buildings and spaces in the region. Interested in learning about green building? GBA’s got you covered. Looking for help on a project? Green Building Alliance’s expert staff members can put you in touch with the right people. Want to meet others in the industry? Events hosted by GBA are perfect for networking. In short, GBA is here to connect the dots!how proud are you of Pittsburgh’s leadership on the green building movement?”

These questions were answered by staff member Sean Luther. He is the Pittsburgh 2030 Districts Senior Director according to their website.

Sean Luther | photo credit: GBA website

Sean Luther | photo credit: GBA website

How proud are you of Pittsburgh’s leadership on the green building movement?
I think one of the most understated aspects of Pittsburgh leadership in the healthy and high performance building movement has been its evolution over the past ten years. Success in this sector was originally a very tight collaboration between nonprofits like GBA, the public sector, and private business and real estate companies. Increasingly however, the private sector has embraced sustainability – and the LEED standard in particular – without the direct intervention of government. This evolution typifies the region’s business community, and the unique public/private relationships that have driven Pittsburgh’s success over the past few decades.

How excited are you for the new PNC structure to be completed?
The Tower is certainly one of the most exciting real estate developments in the country right now. I think all of us who are promoting sustainability in the building sector are very excited to see the cutting edge technologies that PNC is incorporating into the project come online. In particular, the solar chimney and passive cooling program that is integral to the building has the potential to radically change the way we think of building operations in this region.

More than just as a sum of next generation technologies however, I am personally excited at what the Tower represents for Pittsburgh and for Downtown. A project this substantial represents the continued economic stability of the region, the importance of Downtown as an employment center, and Pittsburgh’s tradition of innovation.

And personally, I have enjoyed rising into the skyline from my apartment in Downtown over the past two years. It has been such a thrill to watch the structure, and now the façade rise into the skyline.

How do you feel about Pittsburgh’s green building revolution erasing some history? (I LOVE Pittsburgh’s mix of the old and new)
Downtown Pittsburgh’s density, tight street grid, and service as a job center all but ensures that we will always be having to be mindful of the balance between the historic fabric and new development. Our Downtown has so few building sites compared to our peer cities (something we should be thankful for, surface parking lots are the bane of successful downtowns), and the building sector evolves so rapidly that we cannot always rely on redevelopment to drive our region forward. That being said, it is always more efficient to re-use and existing building because of the high impact of materials and energy required for new construction.

I think Downtown has been generally very successful at finding the balance between need for modern office space and reuse of our spectacular historic structures. Many times, as in the Clark Building and the James Reed Building, maintaining historic buildings requires a change of use. It is important though that we hold the new construction that emerges to compliment these historic buildings is held to the highest possible standard for the community; including pursuing high performing building systems and ensuring occupant health. Projects like the Tower at PNC Plaza and re-investments in our existing buildings are pushing these trends forward in an important way.

What would you like to see as Pittsburgh’s next step?
I think Pittsburgh is at a very critical junction in terms of understanding how to continue to grow the economy without the knee jerk of greenfield development to accommodate it. For every Google at Bakery Square and Show Clix in Downtown, there is two or three growing companies that feel compelled to make their home in Cranberry or at the airport. Pittsburgh’s urban centers have remained robust because of how history of job decentralization. The rapidly increasing focus on sprawling job centers not only blunts our region’s success in sustainable buildings, but also directly imperils the success of Downtown.


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