Once perched above steel mills and heavy industry, Pittsburgh’s South Side Slopes grew to become the proximate bedroom community for workers in the South Side Flats. In defiance of the challenging topography, buildings and parks were dotted about the wooded hillside. Connecting them, if gradients were too steep for streets, were stairs by the hundreds that served as public rights-of-way. Today the mills are long gone, and the Flats are better known for a hip urban mix of shops, galleries, and entertainment. But the stairs remain, and continue as the primary pedestrian routes throughout the Slopes, a neighborhood recognized for its proximity to urban amenities and sweeping skyline vistas.
The site was a vacant lot with overgrowth and dying trees on a major connector between the Flats and the Slopes. The challenge was to establish a neighborhood gateway and transform this high-visibility eyesore into a landmark. Loysen + Kreuthmeier (Pittsburgh) devised a solution that leverages an existing concrete retaining wall and reinterprets the typical “welcome to the neighborhood” sign as an abstracted self-portrait.
A 48-ft.-long Cor-ten steel plate was waterjet-cut based on Loysen + Kreuthmeier’s design depicting the neighborhood’s natural and manmade elements. The plate was roll-formed, then field-welded and finished in place, with mounting points to account for thermal movement of the finished piece. The concrete retaining wall directly behind it was painted with a lotus-molecule-derived coating that sloughs off atmospheric dirt (and cor-ten oxides) and allows light to fill the cavity between the wall and the scrim. An LED lighting system with five channels of preset dimming washes light evenly over the varying height of the piece, and minimizes energy use. The steel plate/scrim creates a dramatic figure-ground diagram of the immediate area, with added dimensional streets and steps. By day, the superimposed elements trace neighborhood features in sun and shadow. At night, cutouts glow from within, illuminating a constellation of the built and natural environment.
One line of text, the neighborhood’s moniker, appears in anodized aluminum; the client’s logo is rendered bottom-left; and the overall diagram communicates the neighborhood’s unique urban patterns.
The installation sends a highly positive message about the community. Ongoing maintenance is limited to landscape only, as lamps, easily accessed from below, won’t need to be replaced for many years.
“This solution to a simple retaining wall creates a striking first impression. The elegant use of a single material conveys a bold statement about the community it celebrates, and the abstract rendition of the neighborhood plan in relief beckons the viewer to enquire more about the place.”
Peter Kreuthmeier (principal in charge); Karen Loysen, Sallyann Kluz, Dave Green, Jennifer McCarthy-Lovell (project team)
Vento Landscaping (park construction), Viastar Electric (electrical contractor), LaFace McGovern Associates (lighting representative)
Technique Architectural Products (fabricator), Winona Lighting (linear LED luminaries, dimming modules), Sto Corporation (coatings)