Places: Architects cite importance of heritage and green design

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The grand old man of Pittsburgh architecture was celebrated last week at Carnegie Mellon University's sixth annual David Lewis Lecture, which featured Hank Dittmar but began with tributes to Lewis, who is 85, and an award -- the Congress for the New Urbanism's Athena Award, a bronze medal presented to Lewis by CNU president John Norquist.

A South Africa native, Lewis came to Carnegie Tech from England as an urban design professor in 1963, and "with his energy and enthusiasm, he changed our lives," said Ray Gindroz, one of Lewis' first students and later one of his partners at Urban Design Associates. "He helped us understand the role of architecture in society. David was the pioneer in this country for that," and for involving citizens and students in the design process through workshops called Urban Labs.

"The shape of every city's future is based on its heritages," Lewis said in his brief, eloquent talk, adding that "the greatest strength of any city is its tradition and its local culture."

And while history is the study of the past, Lewis said, "Tradition is the bridge between the past and the future. Unlike history, tradition is open-ended, forward-looking, and perpetually unfinished. It is the vital language that citizens use when they relate local heritage to what they want their community to become in facing the challenges of change."

Hank Dittmar, in his UDA-sponsored lecture, emphasized green design and sustainability in projects sponsored by The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, of which he is head. An American, he also is chairman of the CNU, which champions traditional new towns but has been criticized by some architects and urbanists for promoting sprawl.

The London-based foundation grew out of the now defunct architecture school established by Prince Charles in 1992, which will not be re-established at present, Dittmar said, because "it is too much hated by the architecture community."

The foundation carries on some of its work, supporting programs and places that demonstrate traditional urban design and architecture. The best known is Poundbury, built on the prince's land in Dorset and a physical extension of the town of Dorchester. Begun in 1993, it's now a community of 1,300. About 700 jobs have been created there, some in cereal, electronics and chocolate factories woven into the mixed-income community with about 30 percent affordable housing.

Green building is more than a trend in the U.K.; it's a mandate. By 2016, all new homes are required to produce zero carbon emissions. So at Poundbury, the foundation is experimenting with low-tech, energy-efficient solid wall construction, making classical building blocks from waste ash, and with a product called Hemcrete, a cast-in-place walling material made from lime and hemp. At Poundbury the goal is to create not just green buildings, but beautiful ones.

"Part of sustainability is about making places that we care enough about to take care of," Dittmar said.

AIA Design Awards

The Squirrel Hill Library designed by Arthur Lubetz Associates and Strada's Mifflin School addition won two of six Honor Awards presented last month at AIA Pittsburgh's annual Design Awards.

"We bet this place just hops because it really strikes us as a place the community can own. It is extremely well done and not precious," the Boston-based jury wrote of the library. In the school addition, "There is care in every part: massing, fenestration, spatial and circulation, connection between old and new ... the whole has great consistency and character."

EDGE studio picked up two awards, for the New Hazlett Theater interior and for its service enclosure for Carnegie Museums, a "super pristine box married to a garbage compacter, successfully wed to a building of prewar traditionalism."

Rothschild Doyno Architects won for its master plan for The River's Edge of Oakmont, on the former Edgewater Steel site, and dggp Architecture was honored for CMU's Collaborative Innovation Center project in Panther Hollow.

For a complete list of award winners and jury comments, visit

Architecture critic Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.


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