Tag: Skyscrapers

  • Bell Telephone Building

    Fujifilm FinePix HS10.

    At the corner of Seventh Avenue and William Penn Place is a complicated and confused nest of buildings that belonged to the Bell Telephone Company. They are the product of a series of constructions and expansions supervised by different architects. This is the biggest of the lot, currently the 25th-tallest skyscraper in Pittsburgh, counting the nearly completed FNB Financial Center in the list.

    The group started with the original Telephone Building, designed by Frederick Osterling in Romanesque style. Behind that, and now visible only from a tiny narrow alley, is an addition, probably larger than the original building, designed by Alden & Harlow. Last came this building, which wraps around the other two in an L shape; it was built in 1923 and designed by James T. Windrim, Bell of Pennsylvania’s court architect at the time, and the probable designer of all those Renaissance-palace telephone exchanges you see in city neighborhoods. The style is straightforward classicism that looks back to the Beaux Arts skyscrapers of the previous generation and forward to the streamlined towers that would soon sprout nearby.

    Hidden from most people’s view is a charming arcade along Strawberry Way behind the building.

  • Liberty Center

    Liberty Center

    The local firm of Burt Hill Kosar Rittelman designed the second-most-important Postmodernist development in Pittsburgh, after PPG Place. This one does not get the attention lavished on Philip Johnson’s forest of glass-Gothic pinnacles: it never gets to play a supervillain’s headquarters in the movies, and it is seldom pointed out as one of Pittsburgh’s top sights. But to old Pa Pitt’s eye it is a particularly pleasing manifestation of what was called Postmodernism at the time, but might be more accurately termed the Art Deco Revival. It consists of two skyscrapers—currently known as the Federated Hermes Tower and the Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh—linked by lower sections of building that fill in the rest of the block.

    Clock tower
    Federated Tower
    Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh
    Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh
    Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh
    Liberty Center
  • United Steelworkers Building

    United Steelworkers Building
    Fujifilm FinePix HS10.

    Seen from Mount Washington. We also have some pictures from Gateway Center Park (with a little more about the building), and from the Boulevard of the Allies.

  • Alcoa Building

  • Keystone Athletic Club

    Keystone Athletic Club

    The Keystone Athletic Club was designed by Benno Janssen, Pittsburgh’s favorite architect for high-class clubs of all sorts. Most of them were classical in style, but for this skyscraper clubhouse Janssen chose a simple and streamlined Gothic style instead. It is now Lawrence Hall, the main building of Point Park University, so that two universities in Pittsburgh have trademark Gothic skyscrapers.

    Keystone Athletic Club emblem
    Side of the Keystone Athletic Club
    Terra-cotta tile

    Early in his career, Benno Janssen was a fiend for terra cotta; he was much more restrained later on, but he usually included some characteristically appropriate terra-cotta ornaments.

    Fujifilm FinePix HS10.
  • Base of the Law & Finance Building

    Base of the Law & Finance Building

    The Law & Finance Building was a rather old-fashioned skyscraper when it went up in 1927–1928. It was designed by Philip Jullien of Washington (D. C., where he wasn’t allowed to design skyscrapers, owing to city height limits that are still uniquely in place) in the base-shaft-cap formula typical of the early age of skyscrapers. It even has the regulation bosses’ floor above the base.

    Base of the Law & Finance Building

    What is unique is the row of ornamental heads above the bosses’ floor, perhaps representing the severed heads of the developer’s political opponents.

    Ornamental heads
    Ornamental head
  • Standard Life Building

    Standard Life Building

    Built in 1903, this early skyscraper was designed by Alden & Harlow, who festooned it with terra cotta.

    Plaque: “Standard Life Building, 345”
    Fruity swag
    Terra cotta
    Standard Life Building
    Canon PowerShot SX150 IS.
  • Fourth Avenue

  • Two Gateway Center

  • Park Building

    Smithfield Street face of the Park Building

    The sun was glaring and the shadows were deep, but as far as old Pa Pitt knows, these composite photographs are the only complete elevations of the Park Building on the Internet. Above, the Smithfield Street face; below, the Fifth Avenue face.

    Fifth Avenue face

    And, of course, the most striking feature of the building: the telamones that hold up the roof.

    Two telamones

    The Park Building, built in 1896, is Pittsburgh’s oldest extant skyscraper. (The Carnegie Building, demolished in 1952, was a year earlier.) George B. Post of New York was the architect, and he designed it in the florid Beaux Arts style that would also be usual in the earliest New York skyscrapers. Although it was damaged decades ago by an ill-conceived modernization, the basic outlines and much of the ornament are intact. It displays all the attributes of an early New York skyscraper—the attributes that became dogma for early skyscrapers across the country. (See “The Convention in Sky-Scrapers.”) And with good reason: a bunch of these skyscrapers may create a certain monotony in the skyline, but following the Beaux Arts skyscraper formula reliably produces a good-looking building.

    “Form follows function,” as Louis Sullivan said. Modernist architects used that saying as a slogan (which probably annoyed Mr. Sullivan) meaning that the form of a building should express the structural functions of the parts. But the form of a Beaux Arts skyscraper expresses the social functions of its parts: it makes visible what different parts of the building do, in a way that modernist architecture often fails to accomplish.

    The basic formula for early skyscrapers is base, shaft, and cap. “A convention of treating them as columns with a decorated capital, a long plain central shaft, and a heavier base, was early adopted,” as the Architectural Record said in 1903.

    The base—usually the first two floors—is the public part of the building, where retail shops or banking halls and such things are located—where, in short, the public interacts with the main business of the building.

    The shaft, which is usually a repeating pattern of windows and wall, is where the ordinary business offices of the skyscraper are located.

    Up in the stratospheric heights of the cap are the very most important people—the princes of commerce, and the lackeys and flunkeys who attend to their needs.

    Now look at the Park Building, and you will see that the third floor, though more or less part of the shaft, is outlined and set apart from the rest. This is the bosses’ floor, in which the important men who supervise what goes on downstairs are located.

    Just by looking at the face of the building, you can tell what goes on in each of its parts, which is not true of a modernist glass box. Here the social functions of each floor are made visible in stone and brick. Although the form is not structural, in a human sense this is form following function.