PNC wants new tower to inspire

Interaction will be primary feature, along with solar chimney and glass skin

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PNC Financial Services Group is hoping that its new $400 million skyscraper Downtown will not only serve as a classy headquarters for some 3,000 employees but will be a "piece of architecture that stimulates and inspires" generations of Pittsburghers.

The 33-story building, to be built on Wood Street between Fifth and Forbes avenues, will feature a so-called "solar chimney" that will help to cool the structure, casual workplaces known as "sky gardens" and a glass skin so transparent that pedestrians will have no trouble seeing what's going on inside.

"We want the city to see what's going on in this building," said Douglas Gensler of the Gensler architectural firm, a global firm with an office in Pittsburgh.

The details emerged during a briefing before the city planning commission Tuesday. Also at the meeting, the commission unanimously approved a blight designation for the 28-acre Civic Arena property, clearing the way for creation of a tax increment financing district to fund road and utility improvements.

PNC hopes to begin deconstruction and demolition work on existing buildings on the east side of Wood by early March. It expects to have the new structure finished by June 1, 2015.

The skyscraper will feature more than 800,000 square feet of space and underground parking for vehicles and bicycles. The goal is to make it the "greenest high rise in the world," Mr. Gensler said.

Toward that end, PNC will be incorporating a number of sustainable building techniques in the construction. One will be the solar chimney, a technique that will allow PNC to help cool the office tower. The chimney will work in conjunction with a diamond-shaped "solar heat collector" at the very top of the building that will absorb sunlight and help to draw air through the structure. The bank will be able to open windows in the tower to facilitate the process.

PNC anticipates using the solar chimney about 45 percent of the time, mainly in the spring and fall, to cool the building without the help of fans.

To make the building feel more like a campus, PNC plans to create five six-story "neighborhoods" within the structure in an effort to spur interaction among employees. There also will be more casual spaces known as sky gardens for workers.

There will be two retail spaces, one on Fifth and one at the corner of Wood and Forbes. PNC does not have tenants for either at this point. They will be located off a multi-story lobby that will open to the street.

"We want people to see that as a great room of the city," Mr. Gensler said.

After the presentation, local architect Rob Pfaffmann urged PNC to consider preserving four buildings on Forbes as part of the redevelopment project. He hopes to meet with bank officials to further discuss the possibility.

"We're not doing this just to make trouble. What we want to do is have a better city," said Mr. Pfaffmann, who led an unsuccessful fight to save the Civic Arena.

PNC officials said they are exploring the potential for saving one facade at the corner of Wood and Forbes and incorporating it into the interior of the office tower, perhaps as part of a planned auditorium.

Mr. Pfaffmann also objected to the blight designation for the arena property, saying it was nothing more "than an additional subsidy" to the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, which is seeking to redevelop the land.

He told commission members that before city council approved the arena demolition, he was trying to get Cirque du Soleil to open a training facility in the old building.

However, Cirque publicist Tania Ormejuste, who replied to an inquiry on Tuesday, said the arena "is not suitable to our complex needs."

First Published December 14, 2011 5:00 AM


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