Tag: Modernist Architecture

  • U. S. Steel Tower

  • Fifth Avenue Place Reflected in Four Gateway Center

  • Making Lemonade on the South Side

    “When life hands you lemons,” as the old saying goes, and here is an example of someone making pretty good lemonade out of some very unpromising lemons.

    Three years ago the old St. Adalbert’s Auditorium looked like this.

    Decaying St. Adalbert’s Auditorium

    Obviously it had been abandoned, and desultory attempts at maintenance had ground to a halt. This in spite of the fact that the church right next door was still active, and indeed still is today.

    A different angle

    But now the same developer who converted St. Casimir’s to condominiums has taken this building in hand, turning it into fairly expensive condominiums under the name “The Auditorium.”

    The Auditorium

    A sign in front tells us that nine out of fourteen units have already been sold. Considering that the building was a gymnasium, auditorium, and fallout shelter built in the most undistinguished modernist style, this is a very good outcome for a building that had been a festering eyesore in the neighborhood.

  • Old Engineering Hall, Oakland

    Old Engineering Hall

    Old Engineering Hall at the University of Pittsburgh is a fairly successful marriage of modernism and classicism. It is almost postmodern avant la lettre, with classically inspired details but a shape that owes nothing to the classical world. It was built in 1955, when it was still common for modernist buildings to apologize for themselves by including a few dentils and a suggestion of a Greek-key frieze. This was Engineering Hall for only about fifteen years; the School of Engineering moved out in 1971 (into the uncompromisingly modern Benedum Hall), and since then this building has been put to such miscellaneous uses that the university has never been able to come up with a better name for it than “that building that used to be Engineering Hall.”

    Old Engineering Hall
  • Litchfield Towers, Oakland

    Litchfield Towers

    These skyscraper dormitories were built in 1963 to designs by Dahlen Richey of Deeter & Richey. They were poetically named A, B, and C, but students immediately renamed them Ajax, Bab-O, and Comet.

    The restored entrance looks like a scene from the modernist paradise that existed mostly in architects’ imaginations. But the original architect certainly did not specify the weirdly incongruous faux-antique lanterns.

    Entrance with stairs
  • Three Gateway Center

    Three Gateway Center

    Seen in 1999 from Equitable Plaza, which was in much better shape in those days.

  • Tower Two-Sixty

    Tower Two-Sixty

    The blockish Tower Two-Sixty looms over the little human-sized buildings on the Diamond.

  • Craftsman-Modernist Apartment Building, Mount Lebanon

    Apartment building on Academy Avenue

    Well, this one didn’t quite work.

    Old Pa Pitt has mentioned how he enjoys seeing the experiments builders try with small apartment buildings. Here we see a builder who seems to have absorbed some of the ideas of modernism and added some Craftsman-style details: the three-over-one windows, the decorative brickwork, the wood-framed entrance. But the details seem applied at random, and a modernist architect would have been more regular in the geometry. Note the lack of rhythm or alignment in the windows, which throws off the whole façade. The second and third floors have windows in groups of 2, 1, 3, 2; the first floor has groups of 2, 1, 2, 1, and they do not line up at all with the windows above them. The entrance does not line up vertically or horizontally with anything else in the building; its awkward corner placement seems to leave some of the trim hanging off the edge.

    Someone will probably come along and tell Father Pitt that this building is by a famous modernist architect, and old Pa Pitt will only say that the architect was having a bad day.

  • Allegheny Center

    Allegheny Center

    The curious urban clutter of Allegheny Center, a grand plan to build a completely new urban center for the North Side that, like most such plans from the 1960s, had at best only partial success. It destroyed almost the entire core of the old city of Allegheny, replacing it with modernist blocks and apartment warehouses. The clock tower at middle left marks the old Allegheny branch of the Carnegie Library, which stands at the end of a row of buildings preserved amidst the destruction. In the foreground, some of the millionaires’ mansions of Allegheny West.

  • Torath Chaim Congregation, East Liberty

    Some work has been going on at this abandoned synagogue, so perhaps it will find a new purpose. The abstract menorah (it once had electric light bulbs for candles) and irregular horizontal stone date it to the middle twentieth century. But although you wouldn’t know it from the front, this is really a luxurious early-1900s private house with a modernist façade grafted on.