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Students bring international focus to Pittsburgh’s high-performance buildings

Students from South West College joined Penn State students in Pittsburgh to learn best practices in energy efficient design.

Students from South West College, Northern Ireland, joined Penn State students in Pittsburgh to learn best practices in energy efficient design during the High-Performance Building Summer Camp, a joint initiative between the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, Penn State-led Global Building Network (GBN), South West College and the Green Building Alliance in Pittsburgh. The city was selected as the host for the camp because of its classification as a United Nations International Centre of Excellence on High-Performance Building.

Tom Bartnik, director of the Penn State Center Pittsburgh, said the programme is designed to prepare the students to be trained as a PHIUS Certified Consultant, or a PHI Certified Passive House Designer, the world’s leading standard in energy-efficient construction.

“We all collaborated to craft the three-week session at the Penn State Center Pittsburgh to combine classroom instruction with first-hand activities and several field trips,” Bartnik said. “With Pittsburgh’s solid portfolio of high-performance buildings, students toured the net-zero energy and net-zero water buildings at Tree Pittsburgh, Frick Environmental Center, and Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes, the first and only building to meet six of the highest green certifications. Additional tours featured Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh MuseumLab, and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Carrick, which is the first certified Passive House library in North America. And at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, students experienced iconic American architecture.”

Sarah Klinetob Lowe, operations director for the Global Building Network at Penn State, joined Wayne Funston and two other instructors from South West College in delivering the daily instruction. She said the camp curriculum addressed technical, teamwork, and global skills needed to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Through a balance of hands-on activities and technical content lectures in the classroom, the students broadly explored high-performance building features and dove into the details of internationally applicable passive building standards. While in the local community, students toured high-performance buildings that fit into their cultural context.” Lowe said. “With the Penn State Centre Pittsburgh’s focus on sustainability and immersive experiences, they have been an invaluable partner in seamlessly bringing together the technical content with local cultural experiences and daily logical needs.”

Leo Murphy, Interim Chief Executive and Principal at South West College added: ‘South West College has long been a leader in the practice and teaching of sustainability and sustainable construction in Northern Ireland and our successes have been well documented over the past year as the college’s Erne Campus in Enniskillen has been recognised as the world’s largest Passive House Premium Rated Building and also one of the first buildings to join the United Nations High Performance Building Initiative at COP26 in Glasgow last November.

The exchange programme at Penn State is a truly invaluable learning opportunity for our students and will further equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to make a measurable impact not only on the local and regional construction industry but on an international level. We look forward to further strengthening our relationship with Penn State and other academic institutions globally who share our passion for climate management and sustainability over the coming years.’

Tiarnan McGarrity, construction engineering and management student at South West College, said the camp has broadened his understanding of the importance of high-performance building design.

“I will most definitely apply this knowledge in the future to ensure buildings are constructed sustainably and do not damage the natural environment,” McGarrity said. “The success of this summer camp will be evident when we all go out to pursue careers and apply the knowledge to our projects to ensure future buildings and retrofits are environmentally friendly and occupants are comfortable within their building.”

Ella Pedersen, architecture major in the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State, said the experience helped her to concentrate on a specific area of architectural design.

“Being a part of this experience has been a step forward in both narrowing down what specific areas of architecture I would like to explore in my future career and in my skills of interacting with people of very different backgrounds from my own,” Pedersen said. “The United States and the rest of the world have two different standards for what qualifies as passive house. What I thought was quite significant was the fact that we were able to discuss these differences in qualifications, furthering each other’s knowledge of how each works.”

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