Case Study: Green Innovation For Ventilation

Pittsburgh, PA

Wood Curtain Wall
Sliding Façade Door




Creating the “Greenest Skyrise in the World”

In 2011, the team of architects, designers, and engineers behind The Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, PA had set forth rigorous energy saving and environmental goals for the 33 story, 800,000 sq. ft. office building. The principle behind the design was to create the “greenest skyrise in the world.” The building would need to achieve LEED Platinum certification and reduce energy consumption by 50% compared to typical office buildings. A key component in achieving these goals was a double-skin façade system, coupled with a thermal chimney, which optimized ventilation and provided more regular fresh air exchanges for the occupants. Solar Innovations® was asked to provide the inner façade of this system, which would separate the outer corridor from the inner office spaces. The façade required operable sections for air exchanges and entry, excellent thermal performance, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) qualifications, and aesthetic appeal.

PNC Tower Skyrise


Combining Innovation and Proven Performance

To meet the stringent requirements of this project, the Solar Innovations® team decided to utilize a combination of new and existing technologies. The inner wall of the double-skin façade was comprised of floor-to-ceiling wood curtain wall panels and an innovative sliding wall that operated unlike any other operable wall in existence. The patented Sliding Wood Façade System (US Pat. 9,470,028) operates by pulling a sliding wall panel out of its closed position on a curved track to allow the operable panel to be stored next to the adjacent fixed panel of the curtain wall.

PNC Case Study Art
PNC Tower Floor Plan Diagram

Double-skin facades are often used in buildings with high external noise and temperature variation. The separation of the internal space allows for greater efficiency in heating and cooling and acts as a buffer from outside noise. When temperatures are moderate, incorporating a solar chimney into the structure allowed for cool, fresh air to be drawn from operable vents and circulated throughout the floor, eventually being released as warmer air through the chimney. During winter months, the double-skin façade acts as a thermal buffer and passively warms the interior office space. While this design has been used elsewhere, The Tower at PNC Plaza was the first to be successful on such a large scale. Operable panels by Solar Innovations® separating the inner space from the outer corridor were a major factor in increasing the overall ventilation through the space. The use of Low-E glass was a key component in optimizing the thermal characteristics of this project.

The White Oak framing material, chosen for its thermal performance and aesthetic warmth, was sourced from Western Pennsylvania and FSC® certified, which qualified the product for multiple LEED points. The White Oak was finished with a clear ICA sealer that was applied in a three-coat process.

Incorporating automated systems into The Tower at PNC Plaza was key to ensuring the building was responsive to changing temperatures. Over 6,300 WindowMaster® actuators were installed to control 700 windows on the outer skin of the façade and 1,450 automated air vents on the inner skin. MotorLink® technology enabled synchronization of up to four actuators on one window with position control and feedback. While Solar Innovations® did not supply the windows or vents, the energy goals of this project wouldn’t have been met without the WindowMaster® actuators.


Mission Accomplished

Officially opening in 2015, The Tower at PNC Plaza achieved the two main goals of the project: LEED Platinum certification, and net zero energy consumption for one third of the year, while consuming half of the energy of a comparable-sized building. The facility’s 2,000 employees enjoy some of the most well-ventilated and comfortable office space in the world with beautiful views of Pittsburgh and its surroundings.

Project ID12-03-112
LOCATIONPittsburgh, PA
TYPE OF SYSTEMWood Curtain Wall and Sliding Façade Door
FINISHWhite Oak — Clear ICA Finish
White Oak — Clear ICA Finish
Aluminum Framing – PCSP73110 (05 Grey Mica)
GLAZING1⅛” IGU (⅜” Low Iron Tempered over ½” Argon Filled Aluminum Spacer over Low-E Sungate 400)
1” IGU (¼” Low Iron Heat Strengthened over ½” Argon Filled Aluminum Spacer over ¼” Low Iron Heat Strengthened)
APPLICATIONCommercial — Office
SILL (FINISH)Custom Interior Sliding Door Threshold (Clear Anodized)
HARDWARE TYPE (FINISH)Giesse-Barbara Handle (Satin Chrome)
Custom 1¼” Pull Handle Assembly (White Oak)
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