Architecture Notes: High art loses space at Skinny Building


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Say goodbye to the Skinny Building as a showcase for bold, provocative art projects -- or any art at all, it seems. Handee Marts/7-Eleven, the owners of the 5 1/2-foot-wide Downtown building at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Wood Street, have decided not to renew Pat Clark's sublease for the upper floors, which ends Aug. 31. Because the owners didn't give a reason for not renewing, he's concerned that development pressures in the Fifth/Forbes district eventually may lead to the demise of this unique little building that is just about all windows -- 24 of them -- on its second and third floors.

Handee Marts did not return my calls requesting information about the future of the building, which is attached to its store in the former Roberts Jewelers building. There are no known development plans for that block.

After five years, Clark's brief, final exhibit, which should go up in the next few days and continue through Aug. 31, will be a collaboration between two Pittsburgh artists, Mike Budai and Brian Holderman. Holderman is a graphic artist and painter and Budai is a poster artist.

Thanks to Clark and fellow programmer Al Kovacik for making the Skinny Building sing, and for demonstrating that street art, even two floors up, has a role to play in the life of the city. Among their most memorable shows were "Canon Fodder!" showcasing in 2005 the names of 108 historic women in the arts and sciences, and last year's salute to burlesque queens, recalling the neighborhood's strip joints. Both were presented by LUPEC, the women's history action collective.

Quirky buildings like Skinny define the character of the low-rise Fifth/Forbes district, but that inevitably will change without historic district designation and the will to enforce it. It's places and uses like this that make the district appealing to the young professionals Downtown is trying to attract -- and to anyone who values the architectural variety and social history older buildings represent. Let's remember that as development moves along.

Ohio Usonian

In response to my story about a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's Duncan House in Westmoreland County ("Overnight in a Wright," Aug. 5), retired architect Tim Sutton of Shadyside and Coshocton, Ohio, wrote to tell me about the Usonian house he designed and built in Coshocton, where his wife, Marion, is employed, and the Web site he created to document it. A Carnegie Tech grad, Sutton has been a student of Wright's work since his first visit to Fallingwater in 1949 and had long desired to, as he puts it, "experience Usonian living."

Between 2000 and 2004, Sutton worked on the design and construction of Redhouse, named for the red brick, red mortar, red concrete, red cypress and red fir woods used in it. (Red House, you might recall, also is the name of the red brick London home of William Morris, who was a major influence on Wright.) When it was complete, they moved from a brick four-square he had renovated in 1990 in Highland Park.

"Changing from Pittsburgh to our new Ohio Usonian house meant leaving behind most of the furniture; the Civil War cherry chests, beds chairs tables and all of the artworks," he writes on the Web site. "The remainder, the Le Corbusier club chairs and Oriental rugs, made the transition without disturbing the unity of the Usonian design. Everything else new was built-in or newly designed and built from cypress wood. The ornamentation was the design itself with the exception of a dentil molding applied to the 400-foot-long fascia to produce a horizontal dashed line often admired by Wright."

The L-shaped house incorporates many Usonian concepts, including radiant heating in the concrete floors. He invites anyone with access to a computer to have a look, at usonianredhouse.com.

Touring Homewood

Homewood is the destination of a Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation bus tour from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 15. Neighborhood leader Sarah Campbell and Diane Smith of the Community Technical Assistance Center will lead the tour, which begins and ends at Station Square and includes Westinghouse High School, the Homewood Coliseum, the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library and the first home of the National Negro Opera Co., organized in 1941 by Mary Caldwell Dawson. The women led a similar tour last year during the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference. Members $20; non-members $45. Information and reservations: Mary Lu Denny at 412-471-5808 or marylu@phlf.org.

Sundays in the parks

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and Allegheny Commons Restoration Committee are teaming up to offer free walking tours of five Pittsburgh parks from 4 to 5 p.m. on Sundays in September. They will focus on the parks' natural beauty and historical significance. The schedule: Sept. 2, Schenley Park; Sept. 9, Frick Park; Sept. 16, Highland Park; Sept. 23, Riverview Park; Sept. 30, Allegheny Commons. Reservations not required but appreciated: Mary Lu Denny at 412-471-5808 or marylu@phlf.org.


Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590. First Published August 21, 2007 11:00 PM


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