Koppers and Gulf Towers

Our two most splendid Art Deco skyscrapers, as seen from Crawford Street in the Hill. This view is made possible by the demolition of the old Civic Arena, and will disappear when the currently vacant lot is filled again.

U. S. Steel Tower

U. S. Steel is actually moving out of this tower to a new building to be constructed in its shadow, where the Civic Arena used to be. But this will always be the building that says “steel” on the skyline, or (depending on your opinion of the architecture) the building that says 2001: A Space Odyssey. When it opened in 1971, it was the tallest building outside New York and Chicago. Though there are many taller buildings now, it is still record-breakingly massive. There is no other building with a roof that big that high. All taller skyscrapers are narrower at the top; the U. S. Steel Tower is an acre on each floor and an acre on the roof. There is a good bit more office space in here than in the Empire State Building.

The architects were Harrison & Abramowitz, who also gave us the noticeably similar Westinghouse Building (now called 11 Stanwix) and the Alcoa Building (Regional Enterprise Tower for a while, but seems to be called something else now).

The Encore on 7th

It’s likely that real architects look down on the firm of HKS, Inc., as a bunch of hacks who specialize in expensive projects for people with unenlightened taste. Unenlightened? Well, that’s old Pa Pitt in a nutshell! The Encore on 7th, externally, is very much to his taste. Since the architectural firm is known for monster projects like 311 South Wacker, the tallest building in the world whose name is its street address, this one was probably assigned to an unpaid intern. But it is a fine addition to the skyline: modern without losing the context of its location, and suitable for is location without losing its distinctiveness. The apartments inside are very expensive, but they have swell views.

Camera: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3.

Skyline from the North Shore

Mount Washington is the favorite skyline viewing post, but the views from across the Allegheny are impressive in their own way. These pictures were taken just as the sun was setting.

Camera: Canon PowerShot S45. The panorama below is a composite of five photographs.

625 Stanwix Tower

This is an early work of Tasso Katselas, whose public buildings litter our landscape. Every generation seems to produce a favorite court architect, the darling of the Allegheny County nobility, and Tasso Katselas was that architect until his retirement about ten years ago.

This particular building, built in 1966 as Allegheny Towers, is on many short lists of the ugliest buildings downtown, and Father Pitt tends to agree with that assessment. It is a parking garage halfway up; then, on top of that, there is a stack of miscellaneous apartments that look as though someone piled them there temporarily, intending to slide them into a finished building later. There is no rhythm to the apartment section, not even a jazzy syncopation; the windows are random noise. Compare it to the one arm of the cool and elegant Two Gateway Center behind it and to the left, or the textured glass wall of PPG Place behind that, and its lack of harmony will be immediately apparent.

But Father Pitt would not have you dismiss Tasso Katselas on the basis of this one building, which is probably very comfortable for the residents. He has given us buildings Father Pitt loathes with a passion, and buildings Father Pitt loves with an immeasurable love. His Pittsburgh International Airport terminal is peerless: the best airport terminal Father Pitt has ever seen. It minimizes the distances between the farthest gates; it controls security easily (and remember that it was built at a time when security was not nearly so much of an obsession as it is now); and it is the only airport terminal Father Pitt knows where every word of the pages and announcements is clearly audible. How many times have you been in another airport and found yourself thinking, “I hope Mrnmkh Pthhrmrmpt recognizes his name, because I certainly don’t”? That never happens at Pitt, and it took some serious architectural thinking to make those acoustics happen.

And that is the thing that probably made Tasso Katselas’ career: his buildings may be beautiful or ugly, but they are almost always practical. They work very well for their intended purposes, because the architect has clearly taken accommodating those intended purposes as his first duty, rather than as a luxury that one might be able to afford after one has indulged one’s pet design obsessions.

Camera: Konica-Minolta DiMAGE Z3.

Artistic Clouds


We have had some very artistic clouds today. This is the view from Spring Hill.

Camera: Olympus E-20n.