Frick Environmental Center

Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Owner: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Education – General, Office – 10,000sf, Public Assembly – General

2019 COTE Top Ten Plus honoree

The Frick Environmental Center is a living learning center for experiential environmental education. The building and its four-acre site act as a gateway to Pittsburgh’s wooded 644-acre Frick Park and embody the neighborhood-to-nature ideal that served as inspiration for the park’s formation more than 90 years ago. The center exemplifies principles of equity, experiential learning, and public engagement and is welcoming and inclusive for all. A joint venture between the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the center is LEED Platinum and Living Building certified, municipally owned, and has free admission. The center demonstrates the conservancy’s mission to restore the city’s deteriorating parks and reestablish a cycle of stewardship. Intensive community outreach and engagement took place during all phases of planning, design, and construction and continues well into operation to maintain the pride of ownership that builds long-term sustainability. As the main classroom for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s educational programming, the building and surrounding site are educational ecosystems for both immersive outdoor education and hands-on lessons in sustainability. Biophilic design strategies used throughout the project both beckon and shelter, gently nudging park visitors from the adjacent neighborhoods toward the heart of the wooded park beyond. The three-story building is nestled into an existing slope and sheltered by a simple roof resting on slender columns. A service barn, outdoor amphitheater, and restored historic stone gatehouses and fountain complete the site. The center’s beauty and sustainable story inspire new visitors while simultaneously encouraging them to grapple with the impact of our humanity in a dynamic natural ecosystem—one that we are part of, yet inherently distanced from. The center provides the stage for public discourse about this delicate balance.

"The siting of this project is extraordinary, enhancing the views by the way the thoughtful way it fits into the topography." -Jury statement

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2014

Year of substantial project completion: 2016

Gross conditioned floor area: 16,440 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 2,000 sq ft

Number of stories: 3

Project Climate Zone: ASHRAE 5A

Annual hours of operation: 2660

Site area: 182,952 sq ft

Project site context/setting: urban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $13,750,000

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 75,000

Project Team

Construction Manager: PJ Dick

Engineer - Civil: H.F. Lenz Company

Engineer - MEP: RAMTECH

Engineer - Structural: Barber & Hoffman

Landscape Architect: LaQuatra Bonci and Associates

Stormwater Management: Nitsch Engineering

Sustainability Consultant: Atelier Ten

Sustainability Consultant for Client: Evolve EA

Third party rating systems

LEED: Platinum

Living Building: Certified


Nancy Clanton, Clanton & Associates

Paul Mankins, FAIA, Substance Architecture

Christiana Moss, AIA, Studio Ma

Christoph Reinhart, MIT

Allison Williams, FAIA, AGWms_studio

Image credits

COTE Frick1 Massery

Ed Massery

COTE Frick2 Denmarsh

Denmarsh Photography Photo

COTE Frick3 Lehoux

Nic Lehoux

COTE Frick4 Denmarsh

Denmarsh Photography Photo

The Rain Ravine, an interactive installation by artist Stacy Levy, slows the flow of stormwater that cascades from the sloping roof along the northern side of the building.

Nic Lehoux