College Hall was built in 1970, two years after Mellon Hall across the way, and we notice that the architect (whose name old Pa Pitt was not immediately able to find) took the idea of stilts from Mies Van der Rohe and applied it to an otherwise very different style of modernism. Although every element is indubitably twentieth-century, the whole effect gives us the impression of a classical temple. The interior is drab and utilitarian, but the exterior has a restrained dignity that is very attractive.
College Hall, Duquesne University
U. S. Steel Tower
Three views of the U. S. Steel Tower from Duquesne University. Below, with Chatham Center in the foreground.
City View Apartments, Lower Hill
A fairly early work of I. M. Pei (built in 1964), this was part of the massive redevelopment of the Lower Hill that cleared out all the poor people and replaced their houses, stores, clubs, bars, synagogues, churches, and schools with a modernist wasteland. It was originally called Washington Plaza, and it was meant to be an International Style city-in-a-tower, with everything you would need on the premises and no reason ever to go out into the grubby outdoors. For most of its life, it was gleaming white; the muddy brown came in with the new name.
Correction: Father Pitt had originally mistyped the date as “1864,” which in geological time is not much of a difference, but in stylistic time is almost enough for the universe to have been destroyed and created again. Much gratitude to “sandisk” for the correction (see the comment below).
Mellon Hall, Duquesne University
The Richard King Mellon Hall of Science was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and is therefore a black box on stilts. Old Pa Pitt sometimes makes fun of Mies’ black boxes on stilts, but he means it good-naturedly. The colonnades of stilts have a job, and they do it well. They humanize some inhumanly large buildings by creating a human-sized interface between building and street. They also create an expansive outdoor space that is out of the rain and snow, but still open to the world. Here we see a good use of that space, with tables being set up for graduation festivities.
Cathedral Mansions, Shadyside
A modernized form of classicism, or a classicized modernism, makes an attractive apartment block on Ellsworth Avenue at the western edge of Shadyside. It is mostly a group of rectangular boxes, but a few classical details—like the Vitruvian-scroll molding above the third floor—give it some character. Father Pitt suspects that it has lost a cornice; it might have been late enough to do without a cornice, but that Vitruvian scroll looks as though it ought to be echoing something at the top of the building, and slight signs of damage up there suggest that something was peeled off at some point.
Addendum: Thanks to the research of a kind correspondent, we now have a picture of Cathedral Mansions in 1929, and it does indeed have a proper cornice.
Christ English Lutheran Church, Knoxville
Now St. Paul A. M. E. Zion Church. This congregation had money in the 1960s, it would seem; a new sanctuary in 1960s modernist Gothic was grafted on the older Sunday-school and office wing, which is in a stony Jacobean style.
Urban renewal hit Pittsburgh hardest in three places: the Lower Hill, East Liberty, and central Allegheny. Of the three, the Lower Hill was definitely the worst hit, with an A-bomb’s worth of destruction leaving a scoured and sterile landscape that is only now recovering. Second-worst was probably Allegheny Center.
Both here and in East Liberty, the visionaries imagined an urban paradise freed from automobiles. The central business district would be pedestrianized, and vehicles would be diverted to a broad loop around the edge. Anthony Paletta came up with a useful term for this design, which was repeated wherever the urban-renewal movement really got going: “strangulation by ring road.” The center ends up isolated from residential neighborhoods around it by a broad boulevard that is forbidding for pedestrians to cross, so they don’t cross it.
On the North Side, almost the entire business district of old Allegheny was destroyed. A few landmarks were left—more than in the Lower Hill—but the streets full of shops were flattened and the very streets themselves eliminated. More than 500 buildings were obliterated. In their place was a modernist paradise of office blocks and a shopping mall (marked by those half-moon arches in the picture) called Allegheny Center. In the picture above, the only visible landmark from the old center of Allegheny is the tower of the Carnegie Library poking up just behind the building that is now called “NOVA Place.”
In hindsight it seems obvious that it was a bad idea, but we should give the planners their due. The new urban paradise seemed like a hit for a while. The shopping mall at Allegheny Center was lively and successful for twenty years after it opened in 1965. It did not really start collapsing until about 1990. Twenty years is not a long time in the history of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, but it was something.
Mellon Bank, Lawrenceville
In the 1960s, Mellon Bank built a number of modernist bank branches that reinterpreted traditional bank architecture in modern forms. Here the classical colonnade is simplified to a schematic.
PNC Firstside Center
Lou Astorino’s firm designed this building with an unusual sensitivity to context. Father Pitt will point out two obvious details. First and more obvious is the curve along the river face of the building: it echoes the curves of the adjacent Parkway ramps. Next, note how the materials and the shapes harmonize with the Try Street Terminal in the rear—so much so that, at first glance, you might suppose that the Try Street Terminal was part of the same complex.
Three and Two Gateway Center