Alluring Plans for Pittsburgh

The city’s North Side receives an injection of design ideas from a charming competition.

For Pittsburgh’s historic North Side—where historic nineteenth century row houses remain among the concrete scars of 1960s Urban Renewal—the “Charm Bracelet” ideas competition proposes a wide-range of interdisciplinary revitalization schemes. Organized by the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, the competition’s title implies that the nearby cultural institutions, including the Andy Warhol Museum, the National Aviary, the Carnegie Science Center, the Mattress Factory, and theHazlett Theater, are charm-like features that can use architecture, landscape, and art to make beneficial physical and visual connections to the surrounding neighborhoods. And while the competition’s name is quaint, “everybody understands its meaning,” says Children’s Museum Deputy Director Chris Siefert, who organized the competition with architect Paul Rosenblatt of Springboard Design.

Siefert and Rosenblatt sought interdisciplinary teams through an RFQ process and guided a limited competition process that emphasized different design interventions at various locations rather than a single programmatic mandate. Participants included local as well as entrants from distant coasts and continents. Faculty and students from the Urban Lab at the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture conducted community meetings, provided informational support to the competitors, and produced their own design schemes for the exhibition of the submitted projects.

Charm Bracelet complements the renovation and expansion of the Children’s Museum under Executive Director Jane Werner. The resulting building by Koning Eizenberg Architects has won national awards for design and preservation and roughly doubled museum visitorship. Sponsoring organizations, including the NEA and Heinz Endowments, supported Werner’s desire to extend thoughtful design and community-oriented processes further into the neighboring communities. Werner believes the results from the competition demonstrate “the role good art and excellent design can play in strengthening a vision.”

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The exhibition, which closed earlier this month, seemed slightly hampered by time and money constraints, with provocative ideas not always refined completely or represented with the highest levels of finish. Still, the diversity of scale and practicality seemed healthy and the associated public presentations were well-received. “I hope they all get implemented,” said one enthusiastic neighborhood resident.

Though funding is not yet in place, Mattress Factory Executive Director Barbara Luderowski offered to host a gathering to plan steps for implementing smaller-scale designs quickly.

Teams that participated in the competition include:
– Pentagram (Paula Scher, Drew Freeman)
– Colab Architecture (Felecia Davis) with CLEAR (Julia Czerniak), Brett Yasko, SO-AD (David Burns), and Kim Fox
– Suisman Urban Design (Doug Suisman, Eli Garsilazo) with RAND Corporation (Liz Ondaatje), Pure Design, and Lisa Miles
– muf architecture / art with Objectif, Jocylyn Horner, and Liz Ogbu.

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