HACLab Pittsburgh: Imagining the Modern (September 12, 2015–May 2, 2016), an experimental exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Art, looks back to mid-century Pittsburgh, and the arrival of modern architecture through large-scale urban redevelopment. The city’s ambitious planning program drew national planners and architects, as well as critics, into far-reaching conversations, influencing dozens of other cities in the process.
In 1939, the Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association hired Robert Moses to solve problems related to congestion around the city’s downtown “point”, where its three rivers converge. His proposal, the “Arterial Plan for Pittsburgh”, was comprehensive. The Pittsburgh Press published his recommendations under the headline “Highways to Suburban Areas.” The plan led to the Penn-Lincoln Parkway and the city-bisecting highway, Crosstown Boulevard, and to the construction of Point State Park.
In 1962, Jane Jacobs, a grassroots planner and critic of Moses, spent a week consulting in the city at the invitation of the University of Pittsburgh. She was known for leading neighborhood campaigns that opposed large-scale destruction of New York’s original Greenwich Village neighborhood. Upon her arrival, she received a driving tour of renewal projects around town, including the Lower Hill, which had recently been razed to construct the Civic Arena. At the conclusion of the tour she made a statement to the press: “Pittsburgh is being rebuilt by city haters.”
The exhibition, in the museum’s Heinz Architectural Center includes abundant archival materials from the period, an active architecture studio, and a salon-style discussion space, unearthing layers of history and a range of perspectives.
Architects-in-residence, the Boston-based studio over,under, highlight successive histories of pioneering architectural achievements, disrupted neighborhoods, utopian aspirations of public officials and business leaders, and Pittsburgh’s role as a model for the modern American city. These intertwined narratives shape the exhibition’s presentation, as does the assignment for its in-gallery architecture studio: the imaginative reuse of Allegheny Center on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
As a result, HACLab Pittsburgh: Imagining the Modern is iterative, uncovering stories about this idealistic yet turbulent period throughout its seven-month run. In the 1950s and ’60s, Pittsburgh was held up in national conversations as a key example of a progressive American city for its urban revitalization projects. Many never-realized proposals would have radically altered the city’s urban fabric while others were only partially completed, creating problems in subsequent years. Today, many criticize Pittsburgh’s postwar projects for their destruction of neighborhoods and displacement of communities.
These stories, addressed through photographs, films, drawings, documents, and other ephemera, reveal idealism and architectural ingenuity alongside public discourse and protest.
The neighborhoods and projects in focus include Gateway Center, the Lower Hill, Allegheny Center, East Liberty, and Oakland. Significant architects include Harrison & Abramovitz, Mitchell & Ritchey, Simonds & Simonds, and Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). In addition, HACLab Pittsburgh: Imagining the Modern examines unrealized proposals such as those by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Point.
During fall 2015, architecture students from Carnegie Mellon University will investigate the legacy and potential of the stalled urban revitalization project at Allegheny Center. Students will analyze the sociological, political, and economic motivations for urban renewal; the causes for its shortcomings and successes; and assess the cultural and ecological impact of the current situation. They will then design various scenarios for adaptive reuse of the site. This work will take place in the largest of the Center’s galleries, where proposals will remain on view through May 2. In the spring, this gallery will function as a salon, with comfortable furniture for visitors and a lively program of discussions involving residents, architects, theorists, and urban planners, seeking to understand Pittsburgh today in light of its complex history.
Ultimately HACLab Pittsburgh hopes to engage and better inform Pittsburghers and visitors alike about this complex and multi-layered city.
HACLab Pittsburgh: Imagining the Modern is the first in a new series of HACLab initiatives overseen by Raymund Ryan, curator of architecture at the Heinz Architectural Center. Each Lab will see a team of design radicals investigate issues of architectural and planning in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region. This experimental format reflects our constantly changing understanding of architecture and urbanism. Museum visitors are encouraged to return again and again to track the evolution of the research and participate in an evolving body of knowledge.
over,under is a Boston-based practice with expertise in architecture, urban design, graphic production and curation. The firm has designed projects in the United States, Latin America, and the Middle East. Previous exhibitions include Rethinking Boston City Hall (2007) and HEROIC (2009) at pinkcomma, Boston; IN FORM: Communicating Boston (2012), and Let’s Talk About Bikes (2012) at the Boston Society of Architects’ gallery BSA Space; and Design Biennial Boston (2008-). The over,under team for HAC Lab Pittsburgh includes Rami el Samahy, Chris Grimley, Kelly Hutzell, Michael Kubo, Ann Lui and Mark Pasnik. El Samahy is a faculty member at the School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.
General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. The programs of the Heinz Architectural Center are made possible by the generosity of the Drue Heinz Trust. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Carnegie Museum of Art
Carnegie Museum of Art, founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895, is nationally and internationally recognized for its collection of fine and decorative art from the 19th to 21st centuries. The collection also contains important holdings of Japanese and old master prints. Founded in 1896, the Carnegie International is one of the longest-running surveys of contemporary art worldwide. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of the built environment through its exhibitions, collections, and public programs. The Hillman Photography Initiative serves as a living laboratory for exploring the rapidly changing field of photography. For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, call 412.622.3131 or visit our website at www.cmoa.org