Steel Town

OK, first of all: consider this official notice that for now I will be aiming to post once a week here, at least until the Candela Structures show goes up at the City Reliquary in mid-May. The research for that has been taking up a lot of time (libraries! archives! public relations representatives!), and the drawings and model and all for the show itself will likely take even more. Maybe when it’s over I’ll be able to go back to daily posts here—I certainly have enough to say everyday about architecture, urbanism, public spaces, design, &etc.

Back to Pittsburgh. As I said last time, our trip to PGH the weekend before last was great. We saw that, like any good city, Pittsburgh has some very strong, lively neighborhoods (which always makes me happy). But like any rustbelt town, it has its share of problems, too. One afternoon we ventured just outside town to a place called Braddock, which you may have read about (as we did) in the New York Times under the headline ‘Rock Bottom for Decades, but Showing Signs of Life,’ as much a profile of the inimitable mayor as the town itself. We didn’t see the controversial mayor, but we did see the still-working steel mill, as well as signs of life (including a bio-fuel conversion workshop and a recently re-painted sign on the side of a building). The most beautiful thing about Braddock, though, is the presence of architectural eddies: buildnigs left untouched, unmodernized, unpainted. Like an antique more valuable for having escaped refinishing, the stagnancy of the town has left some beautiful views of urban decay. But people live here—people who need good jobs, places to shop, a more sustainable community. It’s hard to see the peeling paint without seeing that, too.

Pittsburgh proper has held on to a lot of it urban character, too, including some really great signs. And if you want to know more about Pittsburgh’s signs, you have to visit and take a look at the book. Two of the books four editors—Jennifer and Greg—gave us an insider’s tour of some great neighborhoods one afternoon.

Did I mention the incline yet? Our first day in PGH, after a bite at the Gab & Eat, we rode the Duquesne Incline, a funicular of ancient origin, and one of two surviving from the hayday of inclines, when 19 inclines served weary Pittsburgh citizens, hauling them alternately up and down the very, very steep hills. People talk about how hilly San Franscisco is, but man, I would NOT want to drive around Pittsburgh on an icy day, and biking is not for the faint of heart, or lungs.

The incline was pretty spectacular. The car is flat, on a steep triangular base, and gets hauled up the hill while the sister car is lowered down (the two cars always move opposite each other, meeting in the middle) on stout ropes controlled by spinning gears and, at the top, a single engineer. The interior of the cars is detailed in wood.  The views from the top, even on a steel grey day, are stunning. This city—with its tortured topography and rivers and bridges—is really something to behold.

What did we eat, you ask? Well, we didn’t make it to the famous french-fry sandwhich place, but we did eat a pancake sandwhich (that’s a fried egg or two in the middle), dogs and fries at the O, a fantastic Lenten fish sandwhich at a local VFW hall (fish sandwiches were EVERYWHERE. Seriously.), and a bunch of other good stuff. we also hit up the Andy Warhol Museum, the Heinz Center, and the National Aviary (why it’s national rather than local, we didn’t quite figure out, though they did have a desultory pair of bald eagles), and the lovely Frick Art & Historical Center. 

Architecturally, the city fabric includes a lot of sweet little brick arts-and-craftish houses, as well as factories and such. We didn’t spend a lot of time downtown, but there are some remants of the Gilded Age there, as well as a Philip Johnson cathedral of glass, a solid H.H. Richardson jail or courthouse, depending on the period you’re looking at, factories, shops, and some mighty lovely churches. Mostly we drove around, poked around, and stopped periodically for ridiculously cheap beers at bars like Sarney’s (which is on the right of the above church pic), where the bartender was sure I was related to a good friend of hers (maybe she’s a very distant cousin?) Oh, and I almost forgot, almost all the many, many bridges of Pittsburgh (446 according to Wiki) are painted this very particular buttery yellow color. Hmm.

So that’s my Pittsburgh. So far, anyway—I’m sure I’ll be back.



This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 and is filed under urbanism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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