PNC examining green features of its new tower on a mock-up in Green Tree
March 25, 2015 12:00 AM
The full-size mock-up on Greentree Road that contractors created of a small part of PNC Tower to test the functionality of several aspects of the LEED Platinum certified building.
An office in the full-size mockup that contractors created of a small part of PNC Tower to test the functionality of several aspects of the LEED Platinum certified building.
Lisa Adkins, of Gensler, and Jeremy Snyder of BuroHappold Engineering pose for a portrait in the full size mockup of PNC Tower that contractors created to test the functionality of several aspects of the LEED Platinum certified building.
Jeremy Snyder of BuroHappold Engineering explains the automatic blind system that will be installed in PNC Tower.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The $400 million Tower at PNC Plaza, Downtown, is months away from completion, but part of it already is operating — in Green Tree.
For more than a year, PNC Financial Services Group has been testing everything from employee work stations to the tower’s cutting-edge green features in a nondescript building off Greentree Road. It may be the most sophisticated shed in the world.
“Nobody knows what it is,” Gary Saulson, PNC’s director of corporate real estate, said Tuesday during a media tour of the space. “They see this thing sitting in a parking lot in Green Tree.”
Built more for tech geeks than mad scientists, the mock-up has been a real-time laboratory where PNC has been able to test and measure the performance of the tower’s double-skin glass facade, or curtain wall, with its “poppers” and “floppers” to allow fresh air into the 33-story skyscraper as well as other features, right down to desk lamps.
The idea is to “test before you invest and make sure you’ve got it right,” said Lisa C. Adkins, a Gensler architect working on the project.
In that spirit, PNC tested about 20 different types of blinds to see which worked best with the floor-to-ceiling glass double-skin glass curtain wall. It finally settled on one that is transparent enough to allow employees to see outside even when the blinds are closed.
The double-skin curtain wall system will feature a catwalk between the inner and outer panes of glass — “no man’s land,” as Mr. Saulson referred to it — that employees can access through sliding doors to get some fresh air or to stretch their legs.
PNC tested 50 to 75 different types of sliding doors to make sure it found the one that was easy for employees to open.
With the help of Gensler, the tower’s architect, the bank also designed the work stations workers will be using.
The desks and storage cabinets have legs to raise them off the floor so they will work in conjunction with the natural ventilation of the curtain wall system to circulate air through the building.
“They have not been used anywhere else in the world. They’re unique to our building,” Mr. Saulson said of the furniture.
PNC is billing its new headquarters as the “greenest building in the world,” or, in more technical terms, a “solar-assisted naturally ventilated high-rise building.”
Part of what will make it that is a solar chimney at the top of the tower that will create a natural draw to help to ventilate the building.
Air let into the building through the pop-out windows (“poppers”) on the outer facade and vents (“floppers) on the inner facade of the curtain wall system on the north and south sides will travel through the work space and up two air shafts to maintain the temperature.
Mr. Saulson said the principle is similar to the way air rushes through an elevator shaft even when the elevator isn’t running.
Based on the studies it has done, PNC estimates that it will be able to naturally ventilate the building 42 percent of the time each year.
“No heating, no cooling, no fan power — because nature’s doing it for us,” Ms. Adkins said.
PNC used the mock-up to test the effectiveness of the facade in ventilating the building and making tweaks where needed. In fact, it ended redesigning a glass facade that will be used on parts of the building so it could get better ventilation.
That proved to be one of the biggest changes made through the testing at the mock-up. Others included the controls used to open and close the blinds. The mock-up also came in handy in determining when to open and close the blinds to keep the temperature under control.
With its state-of-the-art green features and innovative design, the bank hopes to cut its energy costs by 50 percent compared to a standard office building, Mr. Saulson said.
The tower is not square to the street but angled to capture the most sunlight. It will be the only double-skinned high-rise in the United States, Mr. Saulson said. The only other solar chimney of the type PNC will be using is on a building in Manitoba, Canada.
Overall, the bank studied 20 different buildings throughout the world to come up with ideas for the tower. “Our objective was really to do what they did, better,” Mr. Saulson said.
PNC also has done studies to determine temperature levels throughout the year and even when pollution is highest to figure out how often it will be able to naturally ventilate the building.
The tower is on schedule to be finished this fall. As many as 2,300 people will work in the building.
And if somebody seeks to outdo what PNC has done in terms of cutting-edge features, that’s fine with the bank.
“That’s great. We love putting a stake in the ground and we love someone taking it to another level,” Mr. Saulson said.
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.