What is Pittsburgh Architecture?

What makes Pittsburgh’s architecture and built environment special or unique?  How do we distinguish ourselves from other cities in the US and abroad? What has characterized Pittsburgh architecture in the past?  How has Pittsburgh’s “architectural culture” changed over time?  Can we identify “regional” or “local” or culturally specific aspects?  Why?

What are Pittsburgh’s “Signature Buildings”?  The AIA has a list of “Pittsburgh’s Favorite Buildings“: are there others?

PAC Members and all interested in architecture and the allied arts: let’s discuss. Please add your voice as a comment below.

My response: Pittsburgh’s architecture, and our attitudes towards it, seem indelibly marked by the region’s heritage and history: both good and bad. In the 19th and early 20th-century, the architecture was often as proud as the local plutocrats, and as eclectic as its many immigrant communities. Buildings were solid, big, usually unassuming and conservative, rarely cutting edge. Afterall, this is an inland industrial town, not an agricultural town, nor a port and trading town, nor one built on culture. A city built from the raw, dirty riches of the underground, is very different than one built from the bounty of the land and people above. Neglect, abuse, and opportunism seem to dominate, rather than vision, nurturing, and repairing.
As a result, the city soon choked on its own success. Pollution and the waste from mining and the mills pulled down the quality of life, blackened buildings, destroyed and hid much of the natural beauty of the landscape. Already before WWII, the city became unlivable, and city fathers struggled to come up with reasonable answers. As in their businesses, they thought bold and brash: they leveled the Point, they leveled the Hill, they shredded the continuities of the urban fabric with highways. As development exploded and sprawled into the surrounding ravines and hollows, most buildings were little more than menial and functional. Few had a grander vision, for individual buildings, or the landscape overall. Beauty rarely seemed to be a goal. In the postwar era, and again after the steel era, the opportunities to create a new city were there, but in many ways squandered, in part by overly grand plans, in part by lack thereof. In Pittsburgh, we’re still suffering from the actions of these so-called Renaissances, too often repeating mistakes and mentalities.
But now, with the mining and the mills increasingly irrelevant within the City, we’re starting to focus on the land above, the quality of life under the sky–or at least we should. Architecture has yet another opportunity to re-shape the region’s character, to create a new Pittsburgh. We ought to move beyond the nostalgia for our industrial heritage, beyond our menial and neglectful ways, but also beyond our self-deprecating attitude about our grimy city. Rather, Pittsburgh architecture should embrace both the landscape and people we’re blessed with, and a larger world, with many small, collective visions of tomorrow.


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