From Steel to Sustainable

Tonight I introduced one of my favorite 'lite' games to my family: Blueprints. In this game each person is an architect trying to build according to the blueprints you have been assigned. It is a ton of fun while also causing phrases like "You took the piece I needed!?!" Family bonding is always best when there is frustration involved.


One of the key elements in the game is the resource pool in the middle. At the beginning of the game a large number of dice are rolled. Then on your turn you take a piece and replace it with something else. While this seems calm, players have to think about what piece they can take now to best set them up for success in the future.

"Alright, I was thinking of making it all out of recycled materials but they are not showing up, so I might switch to stone" was one of the many thoughts I made during this game. On my drive home it made me start to think about access to building materials and what it says about those cultures.

Take the Iroquois, the first people to live on the land where I am typing this. Their iconic building is the Long House. What is it made out of? Wood. As rocky as these mountains are, it doesn't have good building stone, or even building clay. But the woods are endless!

So in the game, this would be represented by a dice pool made almost entirely of wood, and good quality as well. There is enough for everyone and people can build what they want, as long as it is wood.

Iroquois Longhouse, courtesy of

Iroquois Longhouse, courtesy of

After Pittsburgh was taken over by Europeans, and during the Industrial Revolution, buildings started to get taller. Instead of just transporting materials by horse or boat, supplies could be transported across the state! This began a rapid expansion into what was possible.

Two of the most iconic buildings in Pittsburgh reflect this. The UPMC (which was US Steel) and PPG place; made out of steel and glass respectively. The 'burgh began to rapidly expand and be the center of the world for steel (giving us the football team name the Steelers).

Classic Pittsburgh skyline, courtesy of Dave Dicello

Classic Pittsburgh skyline, courtesy of Dave Dicello

Pittsburgh transitioned from being made with local materials to regional ones. Now we are a global society; having materials shipped from around the world. So what does it mean when we can have access to everything? As much as I love the game Blueprints, it doesn't account for how we are getting those materials. Does the wood come from sustainable forests or is it from clear cut? Is the stone coming at the cost of a community, where open mines disrupt the social fabric?

If our buildings share what we value, I fully believe Pittsburgh now is thinking about those questions with the construction of the David Lawrence Convention Center.

Courtesy of Sports & Exhibition Authority

Courtesy of Sports & Exhibition Authority

This is my favorite building in the entire world. Not only is it designed beautifully (taking ques from the curving bridges) but it is also is LEED Platinum certified. If you are unfamiliar, this is basically the organic label for buildings. The certification comes in four levels that buildings can get:

  • Certified: Good! Still some ways to improve but still rather good
  • Silver: Better! A step up from Certified
  • Gold: Great! Lots of work to be even more sustainable
  • Platinum: Best. Hands down the most sustainable a building can be with current practicies

The motto on the website screams the value change happening: From Steel to Sustainable.

While we as a global society still have a long way to go, I think our dice pool is steadily growing into materials than can last for generations.