Coming attraction: Point Park has done its best on historic facades
January 16, 2015 12:00 AM
Point Park University
An architect's rendering of the new Pittsburgh Playhouse.
By the Editorial Board
When Pittsburgh architect Rob Pfaffmann produced a design to show how three terra-cotta facades from Forbes Avenue could remain in place within Point Park University’s planned Pittsburgh Playhouse, we tossed out a challenge in a November editorial to the school’s architect: Figure out a way to keep those historical pieces in place.
Give Point Park credit. Its architect already had been given the assignment and produced a thorough evaluation. Sadly, the answer seems to be: It just won’t work. Not without altering the design of its theater complex in ways that would undercut its mission of providing a space that will enhance learning, showcase works in progress and add a 560-seat main stage to the city’s cultural scene.
Attempting to keep the facades in place would be costly, adding perhaps as much as $2 million to the price of the $53 million project. Of course, that’s the challenge with any historic restoration and it typically wouldn’t be persuasive. But add to that the previously compromised condition of the facades and the argument is strengthened. Nothing behind them is structurally sound, and the ground-level portions of the historic fronts were destroyed long ago.
If the Pittsburgh Planning Commission approves its plan, Point Park will showcase the facades inside the complex — the five-windowed section from 320 Forbes will be backlit and it, along with the less-ornate piece from 322-328 Forbes, will face an interior courtyard. The Beaux Arts facade of the former Palace Theater will create the entrance to an indoor cafe.
On Jan. 27, Point Park officials will brief the commission on their plan at a public meeting, followed by an opportunity for public comments on Feb 10. Based on the comprehensive analysis that Point Park has completed, it seems prepared to satisfy any remaining skeptics. It certainly persuaded us.
None of this means preserving history should not be the starting point of any project. That must remain the goal not only for Point Park’s future projects, but also for any other developments yet to come.
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