Schwartz Living Market is not a spectacle people come from all over to see. It is not much different than any other building in South Side, at least not in a way anyone would notice just walking by.
The building's wooden floor is plain to see, but patrons might not know the owners had to remove the tiles that once covered the planks because they had asbestos in them.
The tin roof, which is now exposed, was once hidden by a drop roof that had to be removed because it contained lead.
These steps are all part of trying to make the Market into a living building, the owners said.
"When you come into a living building you will notice plants, natural fibers, natural products," said Jeff Newman, the building's manager. "What we strive for is to act like an organism and have the water and energy come from within."
The owners and staff of the Market building are working to meet the Living Building Challenge, a "green building certification program."
While it is only one among several Living Building Challenge projects worldwide, the market is the only building anywhere whose owners are taking on the challenge in a historic urban district.
Meeting the requirements of the Living Building Challenge takes time, the backers said. The building has been registered in the challenge since 2010, and the work is still not complete.
In order to be considered a living building, the structure must have net-zero energy, use only building materials from nearby sources and avoid materials on the so-called "red list," such as asbestos, lead, mercury and cadmium.
In South Side, 10th Street to 17th Street is considered a historic district. This puts limits on what can be done or altered to a building in that area. With Schwartz Living Market located in the heart of that area, at 1317 East Carson St., meeting the requirements for the Living Building Challenge is only part of the limitations it faces.
"When you're talking about historic building status, you're limited to the changes and renovations you can do to the outside of the building," said Brad Hochberg, an engineer working to develop the building. "You're limited to what you can do to the facade in terms of insulation for example, of adding solar panels to the roofline, of adding a wind turbine up on the roof. There are limitations which increase the challenge to achieving living-building status."
But Elisa Beck, the owner of the building, went beyond preserving just the facades. Aside from going back to the original floors and ceiling, she fought with an architect to put a staircase to the roof in an area that would not destroy an original part of the building even though it was more difficult. She converted the restrooms so they would be public and wheelchair accessible.
"We have kept the historic pieces inside the building," Ms. Beck said. "We have kept the historic refrigerators and freezers intact; we've kept the panopticon [indoor deck] intact."
There are two other Living Building Challenge projects taking place in Pittsburgh. The Center for Sustainable Landscapes of Phipps Conservatory is working to meet the challenge, as is the Frick Environmental Center, which will soon be rebuilt after a fire burned the building to the ground more than a decade ago. The Frick Environmental Center will be built in a historic area in Frick Park, but not an urban historical area.
As with these two other sites, many of the projects worldwide have the advantage of being built from scratch. Using a building that already exists poses additional challenges when trying to meet living building status.
"Certainly the majority of projects that are seeking or achieving Living Building status are new," Mr. Hochberg said. "There are some that are renovations."
As a business, the Market provides places for artisans and health experts to sell their products and showcase their work. It also has a vegan cafe and other food options, including fresh-squeezed wheatgrass juice.
The vendors and the building are part of Beck's vision to make Schwartz Living Market an urban oasis for healthful living.
"This is an interesting, interesting project on so many different levels," Ms. Beck said. "And this Living Building Challenge is just part of the project."