by Dima Stouhi
The public has often condemned urban renewal, but for the Pennsylvanian city of Pittsburgh, its revival earned a status of “renaissance“. In their latest volume of Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of Pittsburgh Renaissance, editors Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, and Rami el Samahy explore the reasons behind the city’s congratulatory rebirth.
Pittsburgh’s initial renewal plans were a necessary program of self-improvement and beautification. The city’s fabric had been stained by the industrial pollution, but with its new refurbishment plans, became tamed by strategical planning and unparalleled urban scenography.
In comparison to other cities in the United States, Pittsburgh had a relatively head start, by having already broken ground on the Gateway Center office complex by 1949. Corporations, high-ranked members of the parliament, and noble families played a prominent role in the evolution of the city, specifically when compared to other large-scale urban projects driven by the government, such as the Boston Government Center. Throughout the 20th-century, the private sector almost single-handedly reshaped the city’s skyline.
Although most of Pittsburgh‘s facades are not considered the most innovative, but their arrangements in the urban layout is what gave it the pioneering characteristic. Several iconic architects developed projects in the city; Mies van der Rohe designed a hall at Duquesne University, I.M. Pei designed a tower in the Hill District, Gordon Bunshaft provided the idea for a pedestrian bridge under a highway at Point State Park, SOM designed a bank in 1961, and the New York-firm Harrison & Abramowitz cultivated several ground-breaking projects in the area. Local architects, however, excelled in the landscaping. Simonds and Simonds developed exquisite gardens such as the Mellon Square and the Equitable Plaza adjacent to the Gateway Center.
Imagining the Modern, which was exhibited at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2014, highlights the city’s revival through essays, interviews, news clippings, archival photography, and promotional material of key buildings and their designers.