Local Talent

In March I had the pleasure of being involved with the pre-selection process for a new downtown office tower that Burns & Scalo is proposing. On March 29 the developer held a media event to announce the finalists for the project’s design (which ultimately won’t be decided until they get a lead tenant) and the evening was a revelation for me about the talent of local architects.

First a disclaimer. I was approached to be a juror in February and initially declined, citing the obvious lack of qualifications. My friend Holly Childs persisted by assuring me that they wanted someone known in the industry who was not an architect but understood the business. And to counter balance my lack of qualifications the others selected as jurors were architect Elmer Burger from Point Park University and Tracy Myers, who is curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum.

In mid-March the three jurors met at the Burns & Scalo suite at the Duquesne Club and reviewed eight small renderings (8″ X 11″) to recommend three finalists. It was tough getting down from five to three but the resulting choices were comfortable with all of us.

Two weeks later, when the media event was held, we got to see all the entries in full size form and it was much more impressive. What struck me was that the designs of all the architects were buildings that I wanted to see built. There were some that did not fit well along Ft. Pitt Blvd. but would have been spectacular in other sites. One in particular, a geometric structure with multiple blocks and terraces designed by Anne Chen and Gary Carlough of EDGE Studio, should be the next academic building built at Pitt (or better at WVU). The Design Alliance submitted this unusual looking stacked cube design that was probably unfeasible for a commercial office and looked out of context along the Mon but would be a tremendous corporate office building tied to a global brand or something.

Jim Scalo created the design challenge to create some excitement about a new downtown office and to show off the talents of local architects (some of whom may have had a large user in tow). The results accomplished the latter mission for certain. With any luck there will be a dozen or more opportunities for new 300,000 square foot plus offices in the next decade. Without doubt some of those will be designed by some high profile New York or Houston-based architect. Here’s hoping that at least a few of the owners/developers of those offices to come get a look at the work that these eight firms did before looking out of town.

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