Tag: Harrison & Abramovitz

  • Alcoa Building

  • Porter Building

    Side of the Porter Building

    Is it a 1960s sci-fi space liner, or…

    Porter Building

    …another aluminum-clad building by Harrison & Abramovitz?

    It almost seems as though H. K. Porter, a diverse manufacturing concern that began as a locomotive maker, had pointed to the Alcoa Building and said, “We want that, but shorter.” It is not the same building, but the similarity is striking. This one opened in 1958, five years after the Alcoa Building. It used to have the name “PORTER” in big aluminum letters in that niche at the top, but it now carries the logo of FHLBank Pittsburgh, the tenant with naming rights.

    The picture above was taken from Steel Plaza, and that is the back of the U. S. Steel Tower flag waving in the breeze. The U. S. Steel Tower, of course, is another Harrison & Abramovitz design.

    Oblique view of the front face
    Perspective view

    Historic Pittsburgh has an interesting picture of the Porter Building under construction.

  • U. S. Steel Tower from Grant Street

    U. S. Steel Tower

    With the aid of a very wide-angle lens, we can see the whole face of the tallest building in Pittsburgh from Grant Street. This was a very tall building when it was put up: it was the eighth-tallest in the world, and the tallest outside New York and Chicago. Now it doesn’t crack the top two hundred, but it is still record-breakingly massive in one way: no other building has a roof that big that high. Other tall buildings taper; this one goes straight up.

  • Alcoa Building

    Alcoa Building from Mellon Square

    The Alcoa Building, designed by Harrison & Abramovitz and built in 1953, was supposed to revolutionize skyscraper design.1 It didn’t, but it had some interesting innovations—swivel windows that could be cleaned from the inside, for example, and of course its aluminum cladding, which was in effect a huge billboard advertising Alcoa’s product. This building did have one important and lasting effect on Pittsburgh: it brought Harrison & Abramovitz into the city, and our skyline would certainly be very different without their work.

    Alcoa moved across the Allegheny in 1998, and for a while this was called the Regional Enterprise Tower, but now it holds luxury apartments instead of offices and is calling itself the Alcoa Building again—or, to give the marketers’ full name for it, the Residences at the Historic Alcoa Building.

    To old Pa Pitt this building always looks like a stack of 1950s television sets.

    1. See this article on Mellon Square at the Society of Architectural Historians’ Archipedia. ↩︎
  • A Kinder, Gentler Brutalism

    Hillman Library

    Brutalism is the school of modernist architecture that uses raw building materials, especially concrete, as its main aesthetic statement. Father Pitt is not a great lover of the style, but some Brutalist buildings work better than others. The Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh has a cool elegance lacking in many other Brutalist buildings. The vertical window bays give us shading that keeps the wall from becoming monotonous, and they also flood the interior with natural light.

    It is very hard to explain who designed this building. Wikipedia says, “Design of Hillman Library was led by Celli-Flynn and Associates who served as coordinating architects. Kuhn, Newcomer & Valentour served as associated architects with Harrison & Abramovitz acting as consulting architects to the university. Dolores Miller and Associates consulted on the interior design, and Keyes Metcalf served as a library consultant.”

    An architect might be able to sort out the nuances of coordinating, associated, and consulting. Harrison & Abramovitz gave us numerous skyscrapers downtown, but Wikipedia adds that “In 1996, architect Celli-Flynn and Associates and Kuhn, Newcomer & Valentour won the Timeless Award for Enduring Design from the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Institute of Architects for its design of Hillman Library.” This suggests that Harrison & Abramovitz really were consultants rather than responsible for the design; perhaps their role was to say, “No, you can’t do that, or it will fall down.”

    Kuhn, Newcomer & Valentour still exists as “DRAW Collective,” based in Mt. Lebanon. Celli-Flynn and Associates was absorbed into Buchart Horn Architects, based in York, but maintaining the staff and office of the Pittsburgh company. It is an interesting commentary on architectural trends that both firms’ recent projects, as displayed on their Web sites, lean toward a timid neoneoclassicism. It does not have the courage to break completely with modernist dogmas and go back to Vitruvius, but neither does it have the daring to invent its own forms and make something new. We get the impression that the clients will be satisfied—but satisfied as in “Yeah, it’s okay,” not satisfied as in “They gave me a masterpiece.”

  • U. S. Steel Tower

    U. S. Steel Tower

    Three views of the U. S. Steel Tower from Duquesne University. Below, with Chatham Center in the foreground.

    With Chatham Center
    Again with Chatham Center
  • Westinghouse Building

    Westinghouse Building

    Designed by Harrison & Abramowitz, who also gave us the markedly similar U. S. Steel Building, this is now known as 11 Stanwix Street. Above, from Gateway Center Park; below, from Mount Washington.

    11 Stanwix
  • U. S. Steel Tower

  • U. S. Steel Tower

  • Four Gateway Center

    Four Gateway Center from Stanwix Street, with bonus utility work in front.