Cool Digs: Pittsburgh Architecture Part Two
There's the verdant green of Allegheny Cemetery
over there. The dazzling rainbow of the new Children's Hospital here. The red stain of sunset sweeping the horizon, with a gentle breeze wafting the sultry aromas of Friendship's World Cultures restaurants. As the earth cools, and the mellow tones of East Liberty church bells linger, architects Freddy Croce and Jennifer Lucchino take their ease.
"We're more about architecture than being architects," says Croce, a San Diego transplant. "We're about implementing our ideas. Helping neighborhoods. Proving that good design is sustainable."
Which is why, when he and Pittsburgh native Lucchino moved from a Squirrel Hill apartment, they chose a long, lean three-story walk-up in Friendship.
The pair met while working on San Diego's Petco Park and together formed inter*ARCHITECTURE
, a design studio that "draws inspiration from a network of ideas, people, experiences, disciplines and places."
Buying their Penn Avenue building three years ago, they busted out walls, opened up the space, made a soaring two-story high front, with windows and bookcases all the way up, and moved in. With work spaces in front and bedrooms in back, their private spaces and roof garden face Garfield Heights, a view that is all houses and hillsides.
"We wanted to use this as a prototype for additional development," Lucchino says. "There's a green component here, too, a green lifestyle. We're very urban, close to services.
"We live and work in the same building," she adds. "We're showing the potential richness of an inner-city neighborhood. It's an intensely active slice of life."Celebrating Open Space
Are they alone? As AIA Pittsburgh Executive Director Anne Swager says, "a lot of young architects are moving here or coming back. We're getting a lot more contemporary architecture, more wonderful buildings. Since we have such a strong existing housing stock, our architects are also adapting buildings to fit modern needs."
As with Croce/Lucchino, they're designing in tight, compacted urban neighborhoods such as Friendship, Shadyside and the South Side. Those who don't live there, work in urban places reclaimed from blight such as East Liberty or the Penn Avenue Arts Corridor.
Although no one's called Shadyside's Filbert Street blighted – not recently, anyway – there's plenty of opportunity rehabbing older homes for changing times and tastes.
As EDGE Studio
's Jeff King explains, since the empty-nest couple wanted as much loft-style open space and natural light as possible, they took a house north of Walnut Street and gutted it. Tearing out walls, and a heavy oak staircase, the goal was a cleaner, open look. "As few defined rooms as possible," King says.
Adds former EDGEr Jen Bee, now heading up Jen Bee Design
, "the thought was to celebrate open space. So we brought storage areas into the center to create activity zones without separating it out into smaller spaces. Even the stairs are open risers so they don't interrupt the vision through the space's full length."
"The way these houses were originally designed" King says, "people lived with functions separated. Living and dining were distinct exercises which required closed-off spaces.
"The formalized need for compartmentalized rooms is no longer the way people envision their needs," he adds, so the dining area enjoy open views back and front, with light coming from many places. "Experiences," he adds, "are distinct but connected. With spaces slipping in and out of each other, it's a contemporary modern environment."
A world away, two houses on the South Side favor the new openness: studio d'ARC
architects Gerard Damiani, a New Yorker, and Pittsburgh native Debbie Batistone who together redid 139 South 22nd Street, and, two doors up, Andrew Moss's Silvertop.
With the site vacant for more than a half-century, it was what Damiani calls "tough turf," the hard, unyielding industrial South Side, hard by the massive corrugated metal walls of the former Duquesne Brewery.
Buying the lot a decade ago and acting as their own architects, designers, and general contractors, the pair set about to build their dream house and literally set their architectural theories in concrete.
Building it themselves from 2001-07, Damiani says, "we were interested in doing it right. We took it slowly, designing every space, as well as the cabinetry, even the fireplace tools."
From the backyard garden to the skylight and green roof, "the idea was to build a home to show clients how we're thinking about space and material," he says. "How we implement the language.
"This is a compressed urban site," he continues. "So rooms flow into one another, and light is drawn from the back garden and down two stories from the skylight. As regional architects reconsidering Pittsburgh, we're not trying to import a style. We're making something of this region."
"It's a modest space, reconsidered," adds Batistone says.A Response to a Dense Urban Landscape
At Silvertop, another new 22nd Street house, Andrew Moss, a Pittsburgh native who worked in Denver for a dozen years before returning, custom-designed a home for two transplanted Texans. Moss, whose mossArchitects
is in East Liberty, designed the house with an open first floor living space that extends onto a courtyard-like garden. With the interior focused on a cantilevered steel and wood stair that rises to a roof deck, the home includes a 700-bottle wine cellar, a third floor master suite, custom cabinetry, and heavily insulated walls to keep out ambient noise.
"It's a response to the dense urban landscape in which it is situated," Moss says. "The house mediates between two very diverse contexts, rowhouses and warehouses."
Referring both to a popular Duquesne beer and the corrugated metal siding facing it, Silvertop "is new architecture that fits," he adds. "It looks at its locale – materials, scale, proportion – and brings it all together in a new way. It's a good contemporary urban building."
"Silvertop was a discovery process for us," Moss says. "Any successful project that we've done is a melding of our experience, the goals of the clients, the context of the site. This project brought those three separate entities together, all working well to create this house.
"It's successful in being unique," he adds, "but it fits in. It's great."Abby Mendelson's latest book, End of the Road, a collection of short stories, is available at amazon and bn.com.
Captions: Andrew Moss; Freddy Croce and Jennifer Lucchino; Jeff King; Gerard Damiani and Debbie Batistone; Andrew Moss.Photographs copyright Brian Cohen