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.
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).
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.