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Welcome Center

Earth-sheltered design and low-e fritted glass walls are just a few of the sustainable practices at work inside this LEED® Silver structure.

The Welcome Center at Phipps

First LEED certified visitor center in a public garden

The Welcome Center at Phipps stands as the first LEED certified visitor center in a public garden in the United States. The Welcome Center features a reception area including a café, a gift shop and an art gallery.

Pittsburgh architects IKM, Inc. faced this design challenge: How to place 12,465 square feet of new lobby, ticketing, gift shop and cafe spaces in front of a 7,600 square foot, historic landmark glass house built in 1893?

They solved important aesthetic and historic preservation issues by situating the Welcome Center partially underground, and using a design that complemented the original Victorian conservatory.

A 34-foot high glass dome crowns the Welcome Center, evoking the geometry of the historic glass houses. This splendid, fritted-glass dome above a central atrium solves the need for natural light, which illuminates the lobby, ticketing areas, gift shop and café, thereby reducing the need for artificial lighting.

The Welcome Center's design saves up to 40% in energy costs, 22% above the required level for LEED Silver certification. Energy saving features include:

  • Computer-controlled vents in the glass dome.
  • A green roof surrounding the glass dome that acts as a heat sink, further enhancing the building's efficient climate control systems.
  • A wall of laminated, insulated windows that runs the length of the concave courtyard constrains glare and heat while allowing the maximum amount of daylight to pass through.
  • Powered 100% by wind power generated off site.
  • An interior with low- or no-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints, adhesives, carpet, and substrates along with locally mined limestone and water-saving fixtures.

To complete the visitors' experience while staying true to the Phipps mission, the café features locally grown and organic foods, uses corn-based compostable drinking cups and recycled napkins, and composts all pre- and post-consumer food and food service waste. Items in the gift shop promote sustainable harvesting and fair trade in developing countries.

During the winter months, waste steam condensate is channeled under the sidewalks to warm them before the steam returns to the plant shared by neighboring institutions. This process melts the surface snow and ice, significantly reducing the use of fossil-fueled snowplows and environmentally unsafe de-icing chemicals.

At peak visitor times, overflow parking is available on the front lawn at Phipps. The overflow area uses Alcoa's Geoblock® system—a series of permeable, high-strength blocks made from recycled plastic materials. The system provides turf protection and prevents rutting from vehicle traffic while allowing grass to grow through the open-celled network. Unlike paved parking areas that create surface runoff when it rains, the Geoblock system allows rainwater to infiltrate the soil naturally, preventing runoff.

At a Glance

  • Historically sensitive design to highlight the original Victorian conservatory
  • Green roof insulates to save energy
  • Sidewalk snowmelt system uses waste-steam heat from the Conservatory
  • Low-flow water fixtures and waterless urinals
  • Fritted glass in dome reduces solar heat gain
  • Innovative computerized dome venting saves on A/C costs
  • Computer controlled interior environment tied into weather station
  • Drought resistant lawn, environmentally friendly lawn maintenance
  • Biodiesel powered maintenance equipment
  • FSC-certified wood used in construction
  • 100% wind powered electricity from offsite sources

First LEED® certified visitor center in a public garden

  • A high performance building
  • Energy efficient
  • Water efficient
  • Improved indoor environmental quality
  • Local and sustainable construction material
  • Sustainable site development

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency
  • Computer simulations used in design process to effectively design the mechanical systems and daylighting controls
  • Insulated and low-e glass used throughout
  • Fritted glass in the dome further reduces heat transfer
  • High and low window vents tied into cooling system
  • Green roof insulates to cool building in summer and minimize heating needs in winter

High-efficiency Bathroom Fixtures

High-efficiency bathroom fixtures
  • Low-flow toilets use 1.5 gallons of water per flush
  • Waterless urinals in men's restroom - each can save as much as 67,000 gallons of water per year
  • Automatic sensor faucets use only 0.5 gallons of water per minute

Café Phipps

Café at Phipps
  • Features local, organic, sustainable and vegetarian foods
  • Natural light in an underground space
  • Compostable vegetable starch-based food serviceware
  • Biodegradable recycled paper products
  • Café pre-consumer organic waste is composted through Agrecycle, with a portion returning to Phipps for use in gardens
  • Café post-consumer organic waste is composted off site


  • Composting program for all pre- and post-consumer food and food serviceware waste
  • Serves as an effective soil amendment
  • Keeps waste out of landfills and minimizes water, soil and air contaminated with landfill use
  • Phipps offers classes and free public programs on composting


Drought resistant grass
  • Drought-resistant, organically managed lawn reduces water consumption
  • Efficient drip irrigation system in entrance beds
  • Sustainable plant beds feature plants with non-invasive habits, high disease and insect resistance, and requiring minimal water and pesticides. No supplemental irrigation is needed
  • Open grid parking area maximizes permeable surface area

Green Rooftops

Green rooftops
  • Planted with drought-resistant endophytic-enhanced grass and sustainable plant beds
  • Retain about 50 percent of rainfall in the water table instead of being channeled into the sewer system
  • Keep the building cool and reduce the heat island effect caused by wide areas of concrete and pavement
  • Last three times as long as standard roofs because temperature variations are reduced and exposure to harmful UV radiation is eliminated

Low- and No-VOCs

  • Low-volatile organic compound materials were used in construction, creating a safer work environment
  • Environmentally-friendly paints, adhesives, sealants, carpets, and woods are used throughout the facility


  • Refrigeration and fire suppression systems use no Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) or halons, which contribute to ozone depletion

Recycled, Reused and Local Building Materials

  • 8.5% of the materials contain post-consumer and post-industrial recycled content
  • Recycled materials include: steel, aluminum and glass in the skylight, concrete rebar in the walls, floor and roof, steel studs, dry wall, and ceiling tile
  • 24% of the materials were manufactured regionally within 500 miles
  • Local materials include: steel, concrete, limestone, block and bricks; of these materials, 22% were extracted, harvested or recovered within 500 miles
  • Leftover materials donated to Construction Junction, a Pittsburgh-based retail store for used and surplus building materials

Smart Lighting

  • Designed to maximize interior daylight and reduce need for artificial lighting
  • Outside lights point downward, thus reducing night sky pollution

Renewable Energy

  • 100% of Phipps' electricity is either produced on site with solar and wind, or offset by Renewable Energy Credits
  • Does not deplete natural resources or create hazardous waste
  • Visit our website to purchase renewable energy credits and carbon offsets for your home or travel