Santa's House to play a prominent role in Market Square this holiday season

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The architects at Desmone & Associates do restaurant projects, such as Savoy in the Strip District.

They do religious projects, such as Holy Trinity Church in Ligonier, and commercial projects, such as the Gap store on Walnut Street in Shadyside.

As of this year, they also do North Pole projects.

In Pittsburgh, it's only just begun to look like Christmas, but at the Lawrenceville offices of the 20-person Desmone & Associates Architects firm, it started looking like it several months ago.

It was early spring when Desmone received an assignment the firm had never tackled before: designing a house for Santa Claus.

The job came from the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, which organized this year's inaugural Peoples Gas Holiday Market. The market, which will open at noon Nov. 24 and run through Dec. 23 in Market Square, will feature at least 17 vendors in Alpine-styled wooden chalets.

Santa's House, a 576-square-foot building where children and adults can visit the big guy, pose for pictures and present their Christmas lists, will be a prominent part of the holiday market, positioned on the square near the Dunkin' Donuts.

"It's an invitation to young people to get off on a good foot with Santa Claus," said Luke Desmone, a senior principal at the architecture firm.

People who visit will be asked to donate items to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Terry Oden, an architect whose recent work has involved mostly large projects such as multi-family residences, became the project manager for designing Santa's house, a job he said he was interested in because he enjoys "mission-driven clients and projects, where there is a strong purpose to the building use, and this 100 percent qualifies."

Mr. Oden's research into what a house for Santa would look like didn't take him to the North Pole, but he did look at pictures of Santa's houses built for holiday exhibits in places such as Chicago or Vancouver, Canada.

Then Mr. Oden, with the help of a small team, started to sketch.

Tuesday morning, in a conference room at his office, he laid out his sketches, providing an early look at the North Pole scene that will greet Downtown visitors, residents and workers in the month preceding Christmas.

His plans show Santa's abode, with a candy cane entrance leading up to a cupcake-shaped house with a slanted chimney, where the windows are adorned with bows and the roof is framed with snow. Outside, a mailbox will offer direct express service to Santa.

Inside the house, Mr. Oden planned for hardwood floors, a hearth, a dressing room for Santa Claus and a spot for him to sit in his large chair. The house will be heated and lit.

It will be weighed down in Market Square with 2.5 tons of sand hidden beneath the floors.

The fact that the house was for Santa was unique, but so was the requirement that it be made able to be disassembled, placed in storage for most of the year, then reassembled for years to come.

"You never do a project like that," Mr. Desmone said.

Mr. Oden embraced the challenge. He sketched and drew and planned until he had -- in 19 pages -- a house for Santa.

For a project of that size, that's a lot of drawings, Mr. Desmone said.

"Nineteen sheets of drawings for Santa's house. Unheard of," he said.

Carpenter Connection of Castle Shannon, which also built the chalets that will be set up in Market Square, took the plans to the next step of the process. They constructed the actual house, and on Tuesday, began the week-and-a-half process of putting it in place in Market Square.

It won't be open to the public until Nov. 24, but Santa -- the same one who will be hearing the requests of boys and girls who visit him in his house in Market Square -- got a sneak peek when he toured the house a few weeks ago as it was being built.

He had just one complaint, Mr. Desmone said:

"As [like] all good clients, he said 'my dressing room is not big enough.'"

Mr. Oden, rather than get on Santa's naughty list, widened the dressing room from about 16 square feet to 24 feet.

The change made, the project was Santa-approved.

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