An exhibition that explores a Pittsburgh neighborhood's built environment along with some of the recent plans and projects created to improve it. Designing Oakland documents the landmarks, urban planning ideas, and historical forces that have shaped this important civic and cultural center from the 19th century to the present.
Designing Oakland at Carnegie Museum of Art's Heinz Architectural Center
Exhibition chronicles landmarks and planning in
a Pittsburgh's cultural and civic center.
Designing Oakland, an exhibition that explores a Pittsburgh neighborhood's built environment along with some of the recent plans and projects created to improve it, will be on view at Carnegie Museum of Art's Heinz Architectural Center June 22-September 22, 2002. Designing Oakland documents the landmarks, urban planning ideas, and historical forces that have shaped this important civic and cultural center from the 19th century to the present with more than 200 objects, including architectural drawings and models, planning documents, photographs, maps, paintings, and ephemera. The exhibition also introduces concepts of urban design and master planning, encouraging visitors to evaluate development in their communities more critically.
Just three miles east of downtown Pittsburgh, the neighborhood of Oakland became an enclave of wealthy Pittsburghers fleeing the city's pollution and overcrowding in the 19th century. By the 1920s, the neighborhood had impressive hospitals, places of worship, a large public park, and important civic and cultural institutions, including two major universities and Carnegie Institute, home to the region's preeminent museums and library.
Oakland continued to grow through the 20th century, becoming the second-largest employment area in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Today, Oakland's cosmopolitan character, intellectual capital, and cultural resources make the community an important engine for the region's continuing revitalization. Ironically, the same factors that contribute to Oakland's vitality have also created congestion, sparked land-use squabbles, and strained the housing market. Since the mid-1990s, organizations, ranging from the local community development corporation to large institutions, have created more than two dozen plans for remedying these problems and providing a more orderly approach to future development. Designing Oakland sheds light on a selection of plans, including the Oakland Improvement Strategy, Carnegie Mellon University's master plan, and plans for revitalizing Schenley Park, among others. Complementing and enriching this focus are explorations of housing, industry, and recreation in Oakland, including sections devoted to Forbes Field, the former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Technology Center.
The exhibition illustrates a number of important factors that account for Oakland's appearance. One such factor is the City Beautiful, a movement that guided city planning and urban design in the United States from the mid-1890s through the first decade of the 20th century. Advocates of the City Beautiful favored boulevards, parks, and formal civic buildings in the beaux-arts style, as well as more modest improvements in the streetscape, such as attractive streetlamps, well-maintained plantings, and better paving of streets and sidewalks.
Pittsburgh's response to the City Beautiful movement was Franklin Nicola's 1905 plan for the Oakland Civic Center, which included civic, social, residential, and educational zones along a boulevard that ran through the heart of the neighborhood. The centerpiece of the proposal was a nucleus of monumental buildings created in styles evoking ancient Greece and the Italian Renaissance. A master plan for the University of Pittsburgh's campus, just west of the core of the Civic Center, provided for 60 buildings rising in terraces along a hillside site in an arrangement and architectural style recalling the Acropolis. The residential component of the 1905 plan was realized in Schenley Farms, a development of 135 homes with the most advanced domestic amenities.
Although Nicola's plan was not fully implemented, it produced such unmistakable neighborhood landmarks as the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, the Masonic Temple (now the University of Pittsburgh's Alumni Hall), and the Pittsburgh Athletic Association. The exhibition includes photographs, vintage color postcards, and period architectural journals that depict various elements of the plan. Many photographs in the exhibition document housing, recreation, and transportation in Oakland, and a number of them capture familiar and lesser-known architectural landmarks during their construction. One series of images shows the construction of the Cathedral of Learning, a 42-story classroom and office building erected on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh between 1926 and 1937. Photographed with only half its floors sheathed in stone and the upper stories merely a skeleton of naked girders, the structure already dominated the Oakland skyline.
In some instances objects in Designing Oakland show dramatic changes brought to the community by construction projects. Several black-and-white photographs from the 1950s document the construction of the Penn-Lincoln Parkway, a highway on the southern edge of the neighborhood. The new expressway, which in one photograph appears as a wide swath of exposed earth on the flanks of the Jones & Laughlin steel works, formed a no-man's land, divorcing the mill from the warren of houses and narrow streets in its shadow.
Some planning artifacts attest to the tenuous existence of urban planning ideas. For example, several models in the exhibition, built to illustrate a University of Pittsburgh expansion project, reveal the important role community approval plays in the planning process. In the late 1960's, when the University of Pittsburgh became part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's system of colleges and universities, student enrollment was expected to swell from 20,000 to 40,000 in less than a decade. To manage this growth, the Commonwealth commissioned a coordinated expansion plan. Angered by the university's failure to consult residents and alarmed that the plan envisioned a campus physically larger by one-third, a number of Oakland residents formed Peoples Oakland, a grassroots advocacy group organized to marshal public opposition to the plan and propose alternatives to it. Because of community pressure and a lack of financing, the university's plan was never implemented, but the process established a precedent for inviting public debate as a part of the planning process in Oakland.
Tracy Myers, associate curator of architecture at Carnegie Museum of Art's Heinz Architectural Center and organizer of Designing Oakland, believes that Oakland deserves further study. "Oakland is fascinating in terms of its historical evolution and the challenges it presents to planners and other professionals who are attempting to direct its future sensitively and intelligently," she said. "It is our hope that visitors will leave the exhibition not only with a better understanding of urban design and urban planning issues, but also with the conviction that these things matter in their daily lives."
Designing Oakland is the second in the "Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Project" series of exhibitions initiated by the Heinz Architectural Center in 1998.
Complementary public programs for Designing Oakland will be announced in an upcoming news release. For more information, please call the Carnegie Museum of Art Communications Office at 412.622.3316.
Groups can schedule guided tours of the exhibition by calling 412.622.3289.
Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation, Inc. and the Alexander C. & Tillie S. Speyer Foundation.
The programs of the Heinz Architectural Center are made possible through the generosity of the Drue Heinz Trust.
Carnegie Museum of Art
Located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh and founded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1895, Carnegie Museum of Art is nationally and internationally recognized for its distinguished collection of American and European works from the sixteenth century to the present. The Heinz Architectural Center, part of Carnegie Museum of Art, is dedicated to the collection and exhibition of architectural representations and to the study of all aspects of the built environment.
For more information about Carnegie Museum of Art, call 412.622.3131 or visit our web site.
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