Daily Archives: October 13, 2015


I’d been to Pittsburgh a few times in the past and always loved it.  I think cities that are squeezed by the topography – steep bluffs and big rivers here – have an intensity that is missing in cities that can spread endlessly.  Pittsburgh is another of those cities that was really important 100 years ago, and isn’t now.  But somehow it has fared better than many others – reinventing itself, emphasizing factors such as higher education.  John pointed out to me that Pittsburgh had as many abandoned mills as any other rust belt city, and when it was apparent that they wouldn’t be revived, the rich and powerful decided to knock them down, to allow for redevelopment, and to remove them as depressing reminders of decline.  It seems to have helped.  We architects tend to fetishize the “ruin porn” photos of cities such as Detroit, but maybe it isn’t good for a city’s life for it to be filled with desolation.

There are many things to like about Pittsburgh (and a few to hate).  First, bridges.  As I’ve mentioned, it’s a lot easier to get Greta to look at bridges than buildings, so we hit them all.  There are the three identical bridges over the Allegheny from the 1920s, pictured above and below.DSCF1105

There is Gustav Lindenthal’s lenticular truss Smithfield street bridge.DSCF1199


There are the juxtapositions of bridges with bluffsDSCF1130and bridges with bridgesDSCF1191

The bridges are great, but it is time for people to get over this –  It’s Pittsburgh, folks, not Paris:DSCF1114

For some reason on this trip I’ve become obsessed with collages of urban fabric – bridges, but also lots of building facades seen together.  Pittsburgh is a good town for this.DSCF1284




DSCF1298There are lots of buildings here that are interesting in their own right;  like, what’s that bizarre thing poking out at the right above?DSCF1294


and some weird scale issues – impressive facade:DSCF1175

but it looks like they blew the whole budget on the entry:DSCF1216

and then in the midst of post-war mediocre gigantism, there stands a gem (more on that one in a later post).DSCF1207

But no post on Pittsburgh would be complete without a mention of PPG Place. Every time I start to think that maybe Philip Johnson is not the dark lord of American modernism, this complex looms up in my mind.  Pictures cannot do it justice.  It is the most hideous bit of architecture/urban design perpetrated in the past 50 years (and I will be posting another contender soon).  cropped-dscf1313.jpg


It is awful in concept, in execution, in scale, in proportion, in detail (or lack thereof).  It is horrible to be surrounded by it, and it is horrible to see its banality dominate the city from a distance.  DSCF1193

But there are certain contexts within which it fits.  I can only hope that someday we will be able to classify it as ruin porn.DSCF1099

Hamburgers: Part One

A comprehensive list of hamburgers. I’m going to ignore fast-food. This post will probably have more parts added to it as I eat more hamburgers.
Buckaroo burger
Arthur’s, Cincinnati, OH
Buckaroo Burger: contains grilled onions and barbeque sauce. Bigger than my head, and I couldn’t possibly hope to eat it all. But it was so good that I tried very hard, and almost didn’t have room for dessert(more about that later). P1040391

Bison Burger
Wall Drug, Wall, SD
Tasted mostly like a normal burger. If I wasn’t told that it was made of bison meat, I wouldn’t have noticed that anything was out of the ordinary.

Barbeque Burger
Benjamin’s Sandwich Shop, Pittsburgh, PA
Made with bacon and barbeque sauce. What could possibly be bad about it? Nothing, as long as it’s cooked well. Which it was.

The National Aviary, Pittsburgh

Birds are scary. Ostriches, that can kill you with a kick; shrikes, with their creepy aerial cupboards; Ravens, that teach their children to hate, and so many more!  They are dinosaurs, and you should be very afraid. They are also really cool.
After walking through the gift shop, the first thing we were confronted with was a Stellar’s Sea eagle, which are the largest eagles in the world.

Stellar's Sea Eagle

Stellar’s Sea Eagle

Down the hall was an exhibit of jackass penguins, which I notice that zoos and aquariums will only ever call African penguins.

Penguin Love

Penguin Love

The aviary succeeded admirably in one of my markers for a good aviary, which is having birds that no one except birders will recognize. A black bird with fabulous orange highlight caught our eye, along with the golden pheasant strutting around like he owned the place.

Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant

And like at the Carnegie Natural History Museum, John Wenzel had friends there who brought us behind the scenes. Not to say that the exhibits weren’t cool, but they don’t even compare to getting to hold an African Pygmy Falcon.

His name was Goliath, partly for the irony, and partly for the irony of the duo of him and a staff member named David. He was only maybe ten inches tall (Goliath, that is) and a good four inches of that was tail length. Apparently he liked me, as he rubbed his beak on the glove, which birds will only do if they’re comfortable. The feeling was mutual, because even though he pooped on me, he was awesome.

Me and Goliath

Me and Goliath

If you’re reading this, thank you to the staff of the National Aviary! Meeting Goliath, Nigel the Kookaburra, and all the other birds has been the highlight of this trip so far.

Kookaburra (Not Nigel. He was in a room with a lot of birds who don't like cameras, so this is the bird they had on display.)

Kookaburra (Not Nigel. He was in a room with a lot of birds who don’t like cameras, so this is the bird they had on display.)