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Pittsburgh Finally Thinking BIG: Redeveloping The Hill District With The Help Of A “Starchitect”

Redeveloping the Hill District With the Help of a "Starchitect"

Civic arena Site

Site of Hill District development at the former Civic Arena.

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In case you haven ?t heard, Pittsburgh has retained Starchitect Bjarke Ingles ? firm, BIG, to design the Hill District redevelopment at the former Civic Arena. Sorry, but I am having trouble containing my excitement (and obligatory puns). This isn ?t just BIG news, it ?s HUGE!

How often does a major city get to take 28 acres of land IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO DOWNTOWN and develop it all at once? This project is massive. If you look at the map, the site is as big as Point State Park. What city wouldn ?t jump at the opportunity to involve one of the best urban designers and architectural thinkers in the world? It’s a shame that we couldn’t save at least the skeleton of the Igloo, but if we end up with a Bjarke Ingels design, it will have been worth it.

As someone who works at a local (fairly well recognized) architecture firm, I can ?t think of a better thing to happen to Pittsburgh than to have Ingels lead the design of Pittsburgh ?s Hill District redevelopment. To those who are griping about not having a local firm in charge of such an important project, I appreciate the sentiment, but I think you are misinformed. This is a great thing for Pittsburgh. Plus, this project is of a major scale–right in BIG ?s wheelhouse– that it is large enough to include several local firms, more than fulfilling appropriate levels of local and minority involvement.

Not only would BIG ?s work put Pittsburgh on the contemporary architectural map, I am confident Bjarke Ingels and his talented staff will deliver something magnificent. They repeatedly show more creative thinking than any other firm in the world right now. Undoubtedly, BIG makes my list of top 5 current architecture firms. If you don ?t know BIG, I suggest you check out their amazing website.

BIG ?s projects are often mammoth in scale, involving many buildings complete with urban thoroughfares and even parks on the roof. These works blur the line between architecture and urban design, structure and park, public space and private amenities. They always have a thorough environmental analysis and special connection to the surrounding context.

BIG Mountain

The Mountain. Courtesy of BIG’s Website

One of the projects that put them on the map is simply known as ?The Mountain ?. It involves sculpting a large parking structure and apartments into an elegant building that resembles ?a mountain. Don ?t you think that would jive in Pittsburgh? Another project includes creating a Steam Ring Generator atop ?the world ?s cleanest power plant. ? This project will also include over 1,000 residences and a ski slope.


BIG Loop

The Loop. BIG’s concept for LRT and development surrounding Copenhagen. Courtesy of BIG’s website.

If you are a fan of large-scale thinking and transit like me, Bjarke Ingles does that too. Here is a phenomenal project he put together for Copenhagen called ?loop city. ? Check out his 166 page slideshow detailing the project. He makes my lrt map seem banal ?maybe one day we can work on Pittsburgh ?s transit together.

Congratulations Mr. Peduto and Mr. Fitzgerald. What a major coup for this administration to get BIG here. Pittsburgh is finally looking to add quality architecture and urbanism to our list of contemporary urban amenities that are transforming this city. We have our bike lanes, our Yoga in the Square, our business incubators and our chef-run restaurants, but this takes Pittsburgh ?s renaissance to a whole new level. In my mind, this is on par with the Pirates being good again.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mayor Peduto ?s comments that this will create a ?special uniqueness within that place that will become 50 years from now what people identify as the special part of Pittsburgh. ? This 28-acre redevelopment is a once-a-generation opportunity for this city, and I am glad our administration is seizing this moment.

But this isn ?t just another way for Mayor Peduto to leave a legacy; it is a chance for Pittsburgh to turn the corner in it ?s thinking about our built environment. As I have mentioned before on TPOP, it is time we demand better design out of our developers. It ?s time our architecture follows our thinking as a pioneering urban center. It ?s time we once again compliment our beautiful natural landscape with a beautiful built landscape.

I ?m excited that Pittsburgh is thinking BIG…It ?s about time. Now all we need is a Calatrava bridge.

Follow The Point of Pittsburgh on Twitter @thepointofpgh or like us on Facebook. Also follow me on Twitter @bsamson88


Ben Samson has a keen interest in improving public transportation and architecture.