PNC: The Thinking Behind the Building
By Megan Moser

For the bank whose motto is, "The Thinking Behind the Money," the intelligent design of Firstside Center demonstrates PNC's commitment to its employees and environmental responsibility.

PNC is the 14th largest financial institution in the US, with seven distinct businesses employing 26,000 employees in 40 states. In 1997, the PNC Financial Services Group announced plans for a new facility in Pittsburgh to consolidate critical bank activities for the Midwest region. When the Green Building Alliance, a nonprofit promoting green building in Western Pennsylvania, heard about the project, they dreamed of it being a strategic demonstration of the viability and benefits of green building. Not only would this be a high-profile commercial building in downtown Pittsburgh, it would be particularly visible to two critical market sectors: the bank and real estate industries.

By the time it was dedicated in September 2000, the green features of PNC Firstside Center had earned it a Silver rating in the 2.0 version of LEED? It was the first building to receive a rating in the revised, more demanding system. Designed by L. D. Astorino Companies and built by Dick Corp., Firstside Center was completed three months ahead of schedule within a budget of $155/square foot, including systems furniture and redundant systems.

PNC's vision for a workplace for the future is a five-story, 650,000-square-foot, largely daylit building, in an accessible downtown location on a brownfield site. The floor plate is 2.7 acres. The HVAC systems use an innovative hybrid design, combining ventilation from under the raised floor with reconditioning from an overhead system. Building users are treated to panoramic views of the Monongahela River, artwork throughout the building and a cascading trough fountain along the urban street.

The success of Firstside Center demonstrates for the private market the link between intelligent design and environmentally sensitive building. Its impact is being noticed by developers and by building professionals alike.

Establishing Objectives

While such style and intelligent design would befit a corporate headquarters, Firstside Center is for the ordinary worker. The building consolidates 1800 employees performing a number of functions that had been conducted at scattered locations. It houses PNC University, which provides training to the company; O'Brien Family Center, which provides emergency childcare for employees; and human resources. It also houses employees doing routine operation activities, such as check processing, management of electronic transfers, corporate loan service and PNC's data communications and telecommunications. These functions introduce some rather constraining needs. Whole departments wanted to be on one floor so that work could flow horizontally. The anticipation of technology changes and of a high churn rate made flexibility a high priority for the interior design. Operations require extensive redundant systems to guarantee uninterrupted power. Further, the building must run continuously, with work going on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The design challenge was to meet these functional constraints in a human-scale, employee-oriented building.

The green champion for this project is Gary Jay Saulson, senior vice president of PNC Realty Services. "We certainly wanted a building that would be pleasant to look at, but it was more important to create a building that was pleasant to look out of," Saulson says. "The project group put themselves in the place of an employee working there every day and asked, 'What sort of environment do I want to work in?'"

Open space, fresh air, natural light and a view of downtown Pittsburgh all became vital. The driving issue was that of employee cost. The costs of building construction and operation are insignificant when compared to the cost of recruiting, training and enabling the employees to do their work. Thus, a lesser work environment has a higher employee cost because of its negative impact on productivity and retention. Hard work produces income for the shareholders. It's good sense for a business to do something that benefits both shareholders and employees.

Saulson sees green building strategies as part of a package to create an environment where workers thrive. Another part of the package, trimming ongoing operating costs, is a welcome benefit. Because 50% of the life cycle costs of a building are operations and maintenance, it is important to build an energy efficient building. Since PNC's operations require redundant systems, it is making plans with the local utility, Duquesne Light, for Firstside Center to voluntarily resort to its generator when power is less available. In addition to the operational savings provided by this arrangement, "it's a social responsibility not to waste resources, to use power efficiently and when it is more available," says Frank Walters, vice president and manager of Major Buildings Group.

Executive management backed Saulson's leadership on the project. They completely endorsed the concept from the beginning, and their enthusiasm has only increased. In a recent letter to all shareholders, James Rohr, president and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, announced, "We're particularly proud that PNC Firstside Center is the nation's largest building to receive the US Green Building Council's LEED certification."

Employee-Friendly, Environmentally Responsible

The major green features of the building - its location, its daylight, its hybrid HVAC system and its materials - illustrate how well PNC's commitment to an employee-friendly building blends with environmental responsibility.

PNC considered 17 sites before selecting a brownfield site along the Monongahela River, just outside the gridlock of Pittsburgh's downtown. A major factor in the decision not to use a suburban site was a survey of employees that revealed the large majority used public transportation to get to work. A suburban site would be a hardship on many employees, and it would certainly be a hardship on the environment. Early investigation of the possible sites established that a suburban site would require almost 20 acres for surface parking and for stormwater management. Compare this to just over four acres for the selected site. A former B&O railroad station site, the location is a strategic one for revitalization of Pittsburgh's downtown and has served to strengthen PNC's partnership with the city.

Rather than have PNC be in the business of providing transportation or parking to its employees, the urban site allowed them to work with the city to enhance these services for the downtown. Once the project was underway, PNC approached the city transit authority to install an adjacent light rail transit stop that would serve the nearby courthouses as well as PNC employees. The stop will be opening in November 2001. Similarly, the parking authority cooperated in building a nearby parking garage for 1200 cars, which will open in May 2001.

In building an employee-friendly space on such a large floor plate, the challenge is to avoid a cavernous, monotonous interior. Incorporating natural light was a goal, but many areas of the building would have to be far from the perimeter. The solution for this building was to break the building mass into three distinct sections, each of which connects to the urban and natural context. The three sections come together at a five-story atrium.

Perpendicular to the atrium is "the slice," a skylight that runs along the entire roof elevation and brings light down into the fifth to the third floors. Exterior shading devices are placed at an optimum depth and frequency, and motorized interior shades are operated by solar sensors on the roof. These elements, along with the use of 11-foot window walls and an open office design, result in 90% of the floor area receiving natural light and a view to the outside.

Again, the employee-friendly objective dovetails with environmental responsibility. In part due to reduced lighting and cooling loads, the building is estimated to be 33% more energy efficient than the biggest building the operations are being relocated from.

Another energy efficient feature is the twin fuel options available for the chillers. Both gas absorption and electric chillers are installed, and each can be run with an alternative fuel, depending on the price and availability of the primary fuel. The electric chillers can be run from the generators, which run on fuel oil. The gas absorption chillers can also be run on fuel oil. This saves operating costs, preserves scarce resources and provides the redundancy crucial to the operations in the building.

The need for technological and reconfiguration flexibility quickly led to the consideration of raised floors. After comparing raised floors to conventional overhead alternatives, the team developed a dual distribution system. The primary system is a raised floor system that supplies all outdoor ventilation, as well as services the relatively constant cooling load components (approximately 60% of the load), such as lighting and miscellaneous electrical loads. The secondary overhead system services the variable loads such as solar, people and transmission.

The advantages of this hybrid system are numerous. Two partially redundant systems increase the reliability and simplicity of controls. About 400 fewer VAV zones were needed in the overhead system because its distribution is only about 40% of the typical requirement. Airflow distribution points can be changed by moving raised floor panels, increasing the flexibility of space. Ventilation is improved with this approach because, when the overhead cooling is not required, displacement ventilation forces contaminants and heat through the occupied zone to the ceiling returns. Temperature control and comfort are better than for a dedicated raised floor system due to reduced airflow at the floor. The systems are more easily maintained than the alternatives because there is superior access to all components. And the dual system maintains most advantages of a raised floor distribution system and eliminates the disadvantages of a dedicated overhead VAV system.

Comparing the costs of the hybrid system with a traditional overhead system involves several components. The hybrid system provided considerable savings on the mechanical systems and on ductwork in the ceiling when compared with an alternate VAV with reheat system. However, the hybrid system also required additional cost for the raised floor. The dual system may be justified simply on first cost alone, or nearly so. For PNC, the capacity to easily reconfigure technology and space make the hybrid system extremely valuable. In fact, this flexibility is enhanced in the hybrid system when compared to a standard raised floor system because the systems under the raised floor are simplified and therefore easier to maintain and reconfigure.

Throughout the building, recycled and recyclable materials were used whenever possible. The systems furniture, for example, is comprised of over half recycled materials. The scale of the project enabled the team to work with research and design departments of several companies to affect manufacturing of products, including floor-coverings, accessible flooring and light fixtures. The selection of colors and patterns of Interface's Solenium and D嶴?Vu products were extended to accommodate PNC's preferences. In the pendant light fixtures, the shape of the reflector was modified for better distribution of light in response to work on this project. The modified fixture is now a stock item.

Teamwork Pays Off

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls Firstside Center "a sensuous, smart, sophisticated building that seems to have done everything right." It is remarkable that a building of this size, complexity and innovation was built on a two-year fast-track schedule and completed three months early. How did they do it? Sincere cooperation among a good team was the key.

PNC decided to consolidate scattered operations groups into one building. Because it is a Pittsburgh-based company with a strong commitment to regional development, it sought local talent for the project. Five local firms were invited to submit prototypes. L.D. Astorino & Associates, Ltd. was selected because its designs were the most responsive to PNC's vision for an employee-centered environment. Astorino Branch Engineering, the associated engineering firm, was part of the team from the beginning. Four months into the project, PNC hired Dick Corp. as the construction managers, and the integrated teamwork began.

Astorino has a practice of holding weekly all-day project meetings - which it calls "constructability meetings" - to mull over the issues. They go beyond typical project meetings because the heads of departments participate. "Rather than just bringing issues to the table, the meetings focus on resolving the issues at the table," explains Elmer Burger, the Astorino principal in charge of the project. It was common for these meetings to include alternative equipment choices spread out on the table, light fixtures, for example, and decisions made on the spot.

Immediately following PNC's announcement of plans for its building, Rebecca Flora, executive director of the Green Building Alliance (GBA), met with Saulson to advocate the idea of incorporating green building strategies as a means of improving bottom line efficiencies. When GBA began four years ago to develop a market-based approach to promoting green building in the Pittsburgh region, it was consistently told by design professionals that their clients do not ask for green. For that reason, one of GBA's key strategies has been to educate owners and facility managers on the added value of green building. It is an approach of driving demand by reaching out to key decision-makers, the progressive thinking business leaders. Firstside Center is an excellent example of how GBA had hoped this would work. "Experience has shown us that the key to success is a green champion on the owner's side," says Flora. "Design professionals cannot impose this on their clients. A green project needs a Gary Saulson."

As a result of discussions with GBA and with Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics (CBPD), it became apparent that there is a synergy between the goal of an employee-friendly building and green building. The notion of an environmentally friendly building was appealing to Saulson from the start. Exactly what that meant for the planned operations center was not yet clear, but Saulson had a staunch commitment to finding out. He recognized that they would need to be more involved in the process than had been their practice "We had to be day to day quarterbacks," he says. His leadership was essential to pushing the design team on the issue of green. He insisted that it had to be done green, and it had to be done right.

The initial decision to redevelop an urban brownfield site set the tone for sustainability to be criteria throughout the project. Thereafter, it was considered hand-in-hand with other criteria for decision-making. Return on investment analysis was used to compare various alternatives, using a two-year payback requirement. The ROI for most sustainable features was an obvious answer, yielding either an instant wash or instant savings, according to Burger. Rather than impose difficult constraints, the sustainability criteria helped suggest new solutions. "Environmentally sound design was a guide that enabled us to solve underlying issues," explains Burger.

One of the more complex decisions for the project was the issue of how to best bring daylight into a building with such depth. Physical and computer models were applied to the analysis of daylight alternatives with the assistance of CBPD, work led by Vivian Loftness, professor and head of CMU's School of Architecture. This work helped to establish the effectiveness of daylight penetration from the slice. Too often these analyses are not done. Loftness stresses, "The cost of physical modeling and computer simulation is extremely small compared to the long term impact of the decisions that are made. These things cannot be changed in the physical building."

Other assistance with the green features of the project was provided by Rocky Mountain Institute, Paladino Consulting and Green Building Alliance.

The design and construction team worked together to maintain the green features throughout the project. Their target LEED rating was a useful tool in this process; the team regularly revisited their scorecard. To prepare the LEED application, Astorino tracked the documentation that would eventually have to be assembled. Throughout construction, they made specific requests for items needed from Dick.

Going for the Gold
When asked about the returns from his green building, Saulson has no doubt about where they will lie: employee retention and productivity. He has asked the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh to do a comparative study of workers in the new building to those in the old building that he hopes will confirm this expectation. The study is underway, though no results are yet available. In the meantime, the employee response has been enthusiastic. In addition to the amenities, they appreciate PNC's concern for environmental responsibility.

The response from the development community has also been enthusiastic. Groups such as the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) have asked for tours, and the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) is planning a special panel discussion among the design and construction team. According to Saulson, the more corporate decision-makers he can bring through the building, the better. "When they hear it is a green building, they expect it to be odd, with mud floors and hay walls. When they come through, their reaction is 'It doesn't look environmentally friendly.' It's the highest compliment they could pay." They simply have no concept of how a building can be environmentally friendly. The Forbo marmoleum on the floor is a good example. The vinyl composition tile that it replaces is much less environmentally benign and is not recyclable; the new product is sawdust and linseed oil. Once they see it, they love it.

Burger concurs. Firstside Center illustrates to the uninitiated design professional that a green building can look like any other building. It is not just about installing photovoltaic panels. As his work on Firstside Center has increased his focus on green design, he has come to view it as a process of relating the design to its context.

Firstside Center has received several awards for its design. It received first place in the commercial category of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's Green Building Awards, and the Project of the Year 2001 award from the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania. It also received a STAR from OSHA for its outstanding safety record. And it is a finalist in the Three Rivers Environmental Awards. The list is sure to grow.

The tremendous success of Firstside Center has had no small impact on the design team. Neither owner nor architect will return to business as usual. For PNC, the experience has shifted their expectation about how to approach projects. They are committed to building green exclusively, and expect to be active in the design process. They have learned that green projects can work, and they proved that there is a positive benefit to employees and to shareholders.

For Astorino, Firstside Center helps to make the concept of green building legitimate and to establish their expertise. They have also found the LEED rating system a helpful tool in legitimization because it codifies green design. The team of PNC, Astorino and Dick, has already begun their next project: a 112,000 square foot renovation in Delaware. This one will be gold.

Green Building In Pittsburgh

While PNC Firstside Center stands out as the most prominent green building to date in Pittsburgh, it is far from the only one. Two other Pittsburgh buildings received certification in the LEED pilot program: Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, designed by Gardner + Pope Architects; and the KSBA Architects Office. The region also has numerous early adopters - buildings that were designed with green objectives and built before LEED was available. At over 1 million square feet, the new Pittsburgh convention center will supersede Firstside Center as the largest LEED certified building in the nation when it is completed in 2003. US Green Building Council President Christine Ervin notes, "There's a very sophisticated green building community in that region, and we see Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh as one of the hot spots in the country."

Green Building Alliance

Green Building Alliance is a non-profit organization that educates the development community on the benefits and techniques of a green building approach to development. Services are available to Western Pennsylvania, through the following three programs.

Public Relations & Policy. Seeks to establish the Pittsburgh region as a national leader for green building programs, policies and practices.
Education & Research. Expands local capacity for better building practices through workshops, tours, a library and a website.

Green Team Builders. Offers direct project services to facilitate the team-based approach that is the key to green building.

Megan Moser, Ph.D., holds the position of director of education and research at the Green Building Alliance, where she manages training for building professionals, educational outreach and the GBA Resource Center. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management with a master's degree in Economic Development. She has a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania and an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Brown University. She has held numerous research and project management positions throughout her career. She can be reached at 412-431-0709 or

Copyright © 2006-2008 Jindao Floors, Inc. Tel : +86-535-274-3446 Fax : +86-535-274-3449 E-mail :