If you’ve ever sat around a table for an eco-charrette or collaborated on a project with Paladino, you have heard us talk about our Abundance approach. Abundance is a philosophy we use to drive change and unearth hidden potential within our projects.

How do you apply the Abundance approach? It’s simple. First, you catalog all of the unique things that you will have to work with to accomplish a goal.

For those in the construction industry, it can be a simple count of the number of things that will go in your building, such as programmed area, linear feet of materials, and/or people. It can be an analysis of the abundant natural resources such as sun, wind, cloudy skies, or rain. It can even be a financial assessment of where you plan to spend the most money in your building.

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Next, put these all on the table and see what you have to work with. The solution must come from the combination of what is there and not what is missing.

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Through Abundance, Innovation Occurs

I remember the day that Paladino was tasked to help develop The Tower at PNC Plaza, PNC Financial Services Group’s new headquarters in Pittsburgh. Gary Saulson, then director of corporate real estate, walked into the schematic design kick-off meeting and said “I want to build the greenest high rise in the world, and you don’t get a penny more than what I told you during pre-design. Any questions?”

It was an Abundance challenge. He wanted to achieve a performance level that had never been reached with exactly the resources that we already had. We knew instantly that we could not buy our way out of the challenge through expensive renewable systems or carbon offsets. We also knew that we could not crank the bolts down on the typical solution to high rise buildings and achieve our goal. We needed to be innovative.

So what did we do? We began to catalog our abundance:

  • Solar radiation: With a tower building, and its location, we had a massive amount of sun exposure.
  • Employees: We had thousands of the best and brightest of PNC employees moving into the building.
  • Height: The tower was projected to rise more than 30 stories above grade.
  • Façade: The greatest line item in the budget was earmarked for the façade.
  • Conviction: We had the best and the brightest on the design team.

The Tower at PNC Plaza

The Tower at PNC Plaza is the physical manifestation of the abundant resources that we had available. It is the greenest high rise in the world and yes, we did not ask for, nor were granted, any additional budget to achieve it. The resulting project is a complete rethink of the standard high rise solution, and one turned away from a conventional solution.

There is no greater example of where the Abundance approach can lead you than to look at how The Tower literally breathes. Conventional high rise design attempts to limit spending on the façade as a means to achieve affordability. The skin is typically made air tight with no openings, and is tinted/reflective to reduce solar loads. This closed model requires mechanical ventilation. Ventilation units take air from the top, force it down to each floor, then returns it to the top of the building to exhaust it. Energy is spent moving fresh air from the top to the bottom of the shaft even though fresh air is literally on the other side of the window on every floor. That’s scarcity, not abundance. With abundance we can choose to spend less money on on the most expensive things.

So we took the opposite approach.

We said: What if we used the abundance of height to take advantage of the buoyancy of hot air to move air without fans at all? What if we increased our spend on the façade to allow fresh air to enter the building in the shortest distance possible? What if we used our abundance of exposure to capture more solar radiation? What if we engaged our employees to help us operate the building?

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The result? A solar collector sits on the roof creating a heat source that increases the temperature differential in a chimney that runs the entire height of the building to increase the draw of air. The chimney captures exhaust air from each floor that has collected heat and CO2 from employees and equipment on its path from the facade. A series of 5’ x 10’ sliding glass doors are operated by employees to self-modulate the amount and velocity of fresh air that comes through the double skin. Outer windows of the double façade automatically pop out to modulate temperature differential between indoors and out to ensure thermal comfort.

This solution, based on our abundant resources, was vigorously discussed through heated debate at that very same schematic design meeting in which Gary’s challenge was laid bare to us.

When the solution was determined, it was incredibly simple, and completely revolutionary. The physics would work and there was precedent for some of the features discussed, but they had never been put together in combination as it was being proposed in The Tower. It was intoxicating to believe that such a solution was possible; we could revolutionize the approach to high rise buildings and change architecture forever. And to pull it off meant that we all needed to put in the hours of research, analysis, and study required to implement this massive paradigm shift in high rise design and construction. Failure at this scale was not an option. Everyone needed to be on board 100% as there was no money to redesign later on.

Thus, at the close of the schematic design meeting, I experienced the second most memorable moment of the project. The team needed to harvest our abundance of conviction. We all took a deep breath and looked each other in the eye and stated our commitment to each other to move forward with the proposed solution. PNC, Gensler, BuroHappold, Paladino, and PJ Dick all agreed to throw our collective will, skill, and thrill into making a breathing building a reality. We would have each other’s backs, hold each other accountable, and use the team’s conviction to overcome our individual moments of skepticism along the way. The road would be tough, but we had everything we needed to accomplish the goal at hand.

The resulting building speaks for itself; its abundance personified in the greenest high rise in the world.


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Brad Pease, AIA, LEED Fellow, is vice president at Paladino and Company. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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