The Next Page: A new life for that silver dome on the Hill

Plans are progressing for a new Penguins venue. Let's adapt Mellon Arena for fresh and dynamic uses.

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Inside the arena, reborn as park and civic center.
Text and drawings by Rob Pfaffmann

"My plays insist that we should not forget or toss away our history" -- August Wilson

Cities are living things. The best urban centers reflect the layers of time. They are sustained by incremental organic growth -- with occasional catalytic interventions in just the right places.

More on Saving the Arena
A conceptual plan for The Hill
Recent stories
A history of the arena

People share their arena memories


As with the Romans many centuries ago, great visions for stadiums, arenas and bridges are the big-bang civic brushes of our era. They get politicians' and planners' blood running.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Italian artists and architects adapted these structures to new uses. The pagan Pantheon became a Christian church, which centuries later is a hub surrounded by cafes and restaurants. Likewise, the city of Lucca, a former Roman town, converted its coliseum into a striking oval town square surrounded by housing built right into the old grandstands.

Wouldn't some Pens fans love -- and pay big money -- to stay in the place where our modern-day gladiators once played? Would you rather stay in a plain vanilla hotel --or one that overlooks the place where Mario Lemeiux once captured this region's imagination?

Or if you're not a sports fan and instead have memories of Wylie Avenue's heyday, how about a cluster of modern jazz clubs tucked into the seating bowl of the old arena, mere feet from the original memories? These are only a few examples of what might drive the reuse of the arena from an economic perspective.

Here's another reason to save the arena: Because it's there. Keeping the arena is a green approach, one that capitalizes on its embodied energy -- the energy that it took to make the building -- and also puts the millions it would cost to demolish it into reusing it.

Ultimately, it's not about putting things back the way they were -- it's about making them better. As Stewart Brand, author of "How Buildings Learn," said: "Buildings never stop changing. Some do it well and become loved. Some do it badly and get worse over time. The difference is intelligent design and intelligent reuse."

We are asking the Sports and Exhibition Authority to think more creatively about the design of not just the lower Hill but also the whole Hill.

Another vista in the renewed arena, gazing out to Pittsburgh's signature skyline.

Rob Pfaffmann is principal of Pfaffmann+Associates ( ), which is designing the new Hill Branch of the Carnegie Library. He is a board member of Preservation Pittsburgh and Preservation Pennsylvania. THE NEXT PAGE is different every week. -- John Allison 412-263-1982


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