Mascaro Center’s New Home Takes “Green” Design, Engineering to Heart

Issue Date: 
August 26, 2009
The Mascaro Center of Benedum Hall under constructionThe Mascaro Center of Benedum Hall under construction

The new home of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation is not only an expansive hub for Pitt’s “green” design and engineering center, but also the latest product of the University’s embrace of efficient and sustainable construction.

The revamped Mascaro Center occupies the overhauled second floor of Benedum Hall and the Benedum’s newly built addition—the gleaming appendage of Benedum looming over O’Hara Street.

With a U.S. Green Building Council LEED™(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification pending, the Mascaro Center strikes a different architectural chord than the original Benedum Hall. Opened in 1971, the 12-floor Benedum tower and accompanying auditorium were cavernous manifestations of Brutalism, a modernist style prescribing massive angular buildings typically made of concrete. Pitt launched a $60 million update of the aged hall in spring 2008 that’s expected to last until at least December 2010.

The cost of the $16 million Mascaro Center was split by Pitt and Pitt alumnus John C. Mascaro (ENGR ’66, ‘80G), founder and chair of the Mascaro Construction Company. The Mascaro Company is the project’s general contractor, working with architects from Pittsburgh-based EDGE Studio and the global outfit NBBJ, as well as engineering firms H.F. Lenz Company, based in Johnstown, and Pittsburgh-based Atlantic Engineering Services.

The Mascaro Center space is slated to open this semester. The old layout of a cement-block hallway encircling a central bank of windowless labs and classrooms has given way to an open plan: adaptable lab spaces unrestrained by walls, offices with large frosted windows for natural light, and sweeping hallways that offer a clear view from one end of the floor to the other. Spaciousness is as central to sustainable construction as minimal-finish floors and new insulated windows, explained project superintendent Nate Martin and project engineer Bill Derence, both of the Mascaro Construction Company. Open, easily adaptable spaces equal less waste when a space inevitably needs to be changed, Martin said. Plus, LEED considers the psychological perks of ample light and unconstrained workplaces, Derence said: “It’s open, bright, and inviting. People will want to work here and be more productive as a result.”

The borderless lab restyles the traditional arrangement of academic departments, explained Eric Beckman, codirector of the Mascaro Center and the George M. Bevier Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering. The 42,000-square-foot building coalesces wet and dry labs for 18 faculty members and 94 graduate and postdoctoral researchers into a single interdisciplinary space.

“One of the most important advances is that researchers will be mixed together rather than segregated by discipline,” Beckman said. “Segregation by discipline is highly traditional yet old-fashioned in that it tends to create scientific silos and hold back progress. By relinquishing the usual four walls and a door, we induce students to interface with each other, and we hopefully foster new collaborations and innovation.”

Meanwhile, the building’s green features and pending LEED certification lend the Mascaro Center credibility, Beckman said. The H.F. Lenz Company estimates that the new Mascaro Center will save 17.9 percent more in energy costs than a similar structure of standard design. That stems from such features as high-efficiency LED lights and sensors that regulate the lights and heating and cooling systems. In addition, unused laboratory fume hoods automatically reduce exhaust volume; sensors adjust indoor lighting by the level of incoming natural light; the supply of outdoor air pumped into the building is contingent on the carbon dioxide level inside; and all mechanical equipment features efficient motors that alone will save $600 a year each in energy costs.

A reflective thermoplastic polyolefin, or TPO, roof on the addition minimizes heat absorption, as do newly seeded green roofs on the Benedum auditorium and in Benedum Plaza. Pitt gets LEED credit for outfitting an existing building with these green features, but gutting the original hall produced quite a bit of waste. Of all the refuse, more than 95 percent was recycled, Derence said, with old concrete used for fill, lumber and sawdust repurposed into particleboard, and discarded metal melted down.

The Mascaro Center represents a University effort to reduce the campus’ environmental footprint via energy conservation, among other methods, explained University architect Park Rankin. “Our basic goal is to control our energy costs, and the University’s carbon footprint is derived largely from energy sources,” he said. “Our baseline philosophy for campus construction is to embrace the standards of the LEED and at least shoot for a silver certification.”

Given the age of many Pitt buildings—from the solid, century-old neoclassical styles to the unwieldy Brutalist forms—and the challenge of incorporating openness into controlled environments like laboratories, keeping green can be difficult, Rankin said. Nonetheless, Pitt’s efforts are recognized. Last year, the Allegheny County Health Department awarded Pitt its Enviro-Star Award with a Three Star Rating (the award’s highest distinction) for adopting large-scale practices in pollution and emissions reduction, energy conservation, recycling, and campus greening. Among the most significant projects was the construction of the Carrillo Street Steam Plant, which is designed to eventually supply all steam requirements for Pitt and UPMC buildings.

If LEED certified, the Mascaro Center would join the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Laboratory Building, which was gold certified in 2005. Also, in June, the Board of Trustees approved a $32 million expansion and renovation of the Chevron Science Center, which will feature a 31,331 square-foot, three-story addition above Ashe Auditorium. The project will pursue LEED silver certification, Rankin said.

Walking the Walk
The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation’s new home includes several “green” and energy-saving features. A sampling follows.

A reflective thermoplastic polyolefin, or TPO, roof on the center’s addition that minimizes heat absorption; green roofs on Benedum auditorium and Benedum plaza.

More than 95 percent of construction refuse recycled: old concrete used for fill, lumber and sawdust repurposed into particleboard, and discarded metal melted down.

Estimated to save 17.9 percent more in energy costs than a similar structure of standard design.

Energy-recovery coil system that removes energy from the exhaust air stream and inserts it into the air stream serving the building, providing free energy.

Supply of outdoor air pumped indoors is contingent on the interior’s carbon dioxide level.

Premium efficiency motors for all mechanical equipment estimated to save more than $600
per year each in energy costs.

Sensors that adjust indoor lighting by the level of incoming natural light.

Highly efficient LED lights on exterior that contain no mercury and last 10 times longer than fluorescent lighting.