Frick Park and the Environmental Center


“The building is beautiful, but is it also a living, breathing structure that can teach its visitors about the relationships between nature, energy and the built environment,” – Parks Conservancy Sustainability Coordinator Maureen Olinzock.

Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Admission Price: Free

Transportation: Google Maps

WebsitePittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Frick Park was granted to the city of Pittsburgh in 1919 by Henry Clay Frick and was later opened in 1927. The Park boasts 644 acres of nature, trails, streams and activity space. It connects several East End Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The space can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never visited before, so here is a map of places to park, restrooms, and trails.

Frick Park has no specific address but don’t fret, this makes the site easy to find, especially through the use of the transportation guide above and the small map to the left. As you can see, there are no roads that run directly through Frick Park, so you will not be able to park right next to your favorite trail but the park itself can be accessed by bus, bike, or on foot!  The trails are only about two miles long each, but there are many different routes to walk them. The paths are friendly to pedestrians, bikes, strollers, and dogs. There is a soccer field, tennis court, baseball field, and playgrounds, all accessible by trail. Understandably, the park is closed by sundown.

In 2000 the Park underwent massive ecological work (taking out invasive species, resotring watershed, etc.) and now has more preserved wilderness than before. The animal and plant life is very diverse with 200 species of birds seen. Stop at the Frick Environmental Center for a free public tour or just learn what makes it a platinum LEED certified “living building.” The building focuses on environmental education and is great for kids. They even have a children size door!

Nine Mile run is one of the Park’s longest, isolated trails. It has a stream that runs directly by it and at some points emerges next to the Pittsburgh traffic and under the overpass of the Parkway East. The trail has been featured in the novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch as a place of a possible murder! But don’t fear, all of these trails are safe to the smart traveler. The adventures at Frick Park appeal to a wide range of ages and the multitude of activities make a great place for everyone. Take a break from the city grind by relaxing on these trails and paths.

Frick Park Environmental Center: the Past, Present and Future of Pittsburgh

By Stephen Mulrenan


Fig. 1. The Frick Park Environmental Center


The Frick Park Environmental Center started construction August of 2014 and was just finished this September of 2016. This new center was built to replace the previous one which burned down in 2002. But Pittsburgh did not replace it with any ordinary center.  It is a living breathing building made to become one with the nature of Frick Park.

What makes any building a living one? They must follow a list of qualifications by different environmental programs. The Frick Park Environmental Center follows the LEED test and is currently trying to pass the Living Building Test, which includes water usage and energy usage. The Building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum certified. To receive this the LEED program uses a point system: 100 points for each of the six categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design (“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”). To receive a platinum certification the building needs to score a minimum of 80 points across the categories. Green Buildings are not new to Pittsburgh though.  The city boasts 39 LEED Certified Buildings and was “the first” for many. For instance, Pittsburgh built the first green Convention Center — the David Lawrence Convention Center — and the first green children’s museum: Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (“Green Pittsburgh”)

The Center as a whole was a $20 million project where much of the grant money came from the city and another large portion from personal donors. The Center LEED platinum status includes a lot of environmentally friendly and conscious features. Firstly it gets all of its electricity through solar panels. This can mostly be attributed to its car garage which is covered by many solar panels. This helps add to the Center’s promise to use 40% less energy than a regular building. In the ground next to the car garage sits a large water cistern that collects all of the rain water that falls off the Center’s roof. Most of the Center’s water use is covered by rain water. Additionally the building treats and manages all of its water and water waste. Inside the building the bathroom water is blue, to inform users that it is “green water,” not for drinking. For heating and cooling the building uses window technology to alert staff when the windows need to be opened and or closed.  Additionally geothermal cooling and heating is utilized by taking advantage of the consistent temperature of the earth deep underground. This means the water will be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The front driveway of the center, the crosswalks and paths are permeable. This allows rain water to naturally seep into the ground, contrary to regular paved roads that keep water out and disrupt nearby ecosystems. The structure of the building is made from steel and black locust wood, both of which were locally sourced when possible. More importantly these materials are from environmentally conscious businesses that are required to be sustainable and safe for their employees.

The interior design of the building tries to capture the idea of Biophilia. This is coined by E.O. Wilson, a well-known American biologist. He specializes in ant ecology and thus studies the structures of ant habitats and holes. He defined the term as human’s innate attraction toward nature due to nature’s imperfections and patterns. The building plays on this concept by making its windows symmetrical but in different shapes and sizes. This is in hopes that the building will feel more one with nature, and that it does. In addition to its eco-friendly features the Center’s goals are also focused on education. The Center’s main use is to be a learning space for youth to learn about the environment in a natural setting. The rooms on the main floor of the Center are all classrooms, trying to teach young kids the basics of science.

The Center works to provide a space that is in nature and one set apart by education. This applies to the theory of space created by Edward Soja. Soja argues that there is not only a conceived and perceived space, one you take in with your senses and one you imagine, but a third space. This third space is lived space, a combination of both perceived and conceived space (Outlining Space & Place). The building is a place for learning about nature and imagining it as you sit right by it. The “living” building itself is almost a natural breathing creature.

Fig. 2. Frick Park on January 25, 1935



Looking Back: Henry Clay Frick and the Park

Presently the Frick Park Environmental Center represents the future, but how do Frick Park’s and Pittsburgh’s past fit into its narrative now? They are actually in contrast.  Frick Park is the city’s largest and youngest park at about 624 acres. It opened in 1927, which is  when Henry Clay Frick promised this acreage for his daughter, Helen Clay Frick. When Frick was alive he was the chairman to Andrew Carnegie’s steel company, one of the biggest, most powerful companies at the time. His daughter had asked for the park at the age 20,  because she wanted a place for the children of Pittsburgh. This prompted Frick, who played favorites with his children, to leave Helen 151 acres in his will as a gift to Helen, who in turn left it to the city (“In 1908, Helen Clay Frick Picked Pittsburgh to Make Her Debut.”). The history of Henry Clay Frick donating a park that now boasts a platinum LEED certified green building is an ironic gift from Frick. Frick and his associates could very well be the main causes for the city’s association of being one of the most polluted places in the world during the height of the steel industry. Additionally Frick is consistently portrayed as a stern vengeful man in literature. Meet You in Hell  by Les Standiford is a book about the relationship of Frick and Carnegie.  In the very beginning of the book, the reader sees Frick deny Carnegie’s dying request for the two to meet again. The book describes Frick as a man with a strong work ethic and one who is fierce in the steel industry. A man many would not expect to give any consideration to a city park.

Pittsburgh’s ability to be resilient and still transform can be seen through Frick Park. A Center that once burned down is now platinum certified green building, living in a park dedicated to the Coke King of the late 1900’s. While ironic, this proves that Pittsburgh is a place of continuous reinvention with the Frick Park Environmental Center as the head of it.

Work Cited

Conservancy, Pittsburgh Parks. “Frick Park | A Regional Park in Pittsburgh PA.” Frick Park | A Regional Park in Pittsburgh PA. Web.

FitzPatrick, Jessica. “Outlining Space & Place.” University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA. Fall 2015. Print.

Fig. 1 The Frick Park Environmental Center, Marshall Jeremey, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy: Web. 2 December 2016

“Green Pittsburgh · Green Buildings in Pittsburgh.” Green Pittsburgh · Green Buildings in Pittsburgh. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

“Historic Pittsburgh – Image Collections. Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection.” Historic Pittsburgh – Image Collections – Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection. Web. 2 Dec. 2016

Hopey, Don. “Frick Environmental Center Set to Open Saturday.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.9 Sept. 2016. Web

“In 1908, Helen Clay Frick Picked Pittsburgh to Make Her Debut.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation,  Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Standiford, Les. Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America. New York: Crown, 2005. Print.

Sweterlitsch, Thomas. Tomorrow and Tomorrow. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014. Print.


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