The Eye

A New Pittsburgh Office Tower Finds an Innovative Way to Broadcast Its Green Credentials

ESI Design’s Beacon at the PNC Tower in Pittsburgh is an interactive light sculpture that uses building sensors to monitor and broadcast its energy use and other performance metrics.

Copyright Andy Ryan

Yet another building claiming to be the world’s greenest opened at the beginning of this month in Pittsburgh, a city still associated more in the public imagination with its industrial past than futuristic green architecture. The Tower at PNC Plaza, the new corporate headquarters for PNC Bank, might look like just another bank tower from the outside, but it was designed to exceed LEED Platinum certification—the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest certification rating—with such features as a double-skin façade and a solar chimney that the company projects will allow the tower to consume 50 percent less energy and 77 percent less water than a typical office building.

ESI Design’s Beacon at night.

Copyright Andy Ryan

In order to broadcast and monitor those green ambitions in an interactive fashion, New York City–based ESI Design built the Beacon, an innovative 30-foot tower in the lobby that interacts with building sensors to gather performance data and uses light, color, text, and sound to communicate real-time metrics like energy use, water consumption, and recycling, how much waste is being diverted from landfills, and how the building is utilizing sunlight and fresh air to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.  

A street view of ESI Design’s Beacon inside the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh.

Copyright Andy Ryan

ESI Design—which has breathed new life into dated buildings with light, video, and graphics, and designed a high-tech replica of the U.S. Senate chamber for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate—described the Beacon in a project description as “a new model for how green buildings can engage with the public—inspiring visitors and tenants to learn more about how buildings work and how their daily activities impact a building’s performance.”

Check out the video below to see the Beacon in action: