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Blog: THE Point

By Rob Stephany

Design for a sustainable Pittsburgh

For the not-for-profit community in Pittsburgh, 2015 was a big year – for architecture and urban design. Multiple non-profits earned design awards for new and restored buildings, including two libraries, a temporary housing shelter and community centers.

Even a main street redesign earned accolades and a student-led project involving men and women training for construction trades was celebrated.

In their Design 2015 awards, the American Institute of Architects Pittsburgh chapter went beyond the beauty of the brick-and-mortar and landscaping of more than a dozen projects either built in our area or designed by Pittsburgh teams. In awarding projects commissioned by non-profits, jurors often focused on the meaning of the buildings or the redesign projects, their role in the community and the commitment that several building teams made to environmental and social sustainability.

The awards embodied the principles of p4: Planet, People, Place, Performance, the city of Pittsburgh’s plan to build a just and sustainable metropolis for all. At the same time, some of the buildings awarded were funded by grants from the Endowments, which we give only when the building has sustainable measures, like LEED certification, built in. The awards were a welcome glimpse into the p4 future of Pittsburgh, where all building projects will automatically have the features that won these structures such coveted awards.

Among them, the Sharpsburg Public Library and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Beechview won Certificates of Merit. Project RE’s building, funded in part by the Endowments, proved a revelation to the jury, awarding it the Architectural Detail + Craftsmanship Award of Excellence. The RE_FAB mobile fabrication Lab received a Design + Innovation Award of Excellence.

Also featured was the Hazelwood Neighborhood Center, funded in part by the Endowments and built to Passive House standards – exemplifying a redesign that focuses on how the building is used by the community and how it blends in – which received a Sustainable Design Award of Excellence. Another Sustainable Design Award of Excellence went to McKeesport Downtown Housing, a project of Action Housing that provides bridge housing for people at risk of homelessness. While recognizing its historical significance, designers took advantage of Passive House criteria, resulting in this temporary housing situation for McKeesport’s most needy saving money and energy permanently.

All these projects were lauded for their attention to detail and ability to adhere to tight budgets. They are exemplars of the way that sustainability is for everyone, that it’s affordable, manageable and in more and more cases in our region, preferred.

It’s thrilling that in a contest for architectural design, our city and region’s non-profits are thinking sustainably and winning “best of show” awards. It’s wonderful that a community center in Hazelwood is regarded as highly as water canal project in Dubai, or a religious center in West Virginia. As our city continues to redevelop, as construction projects begin and end, it’s heartening to see that the principles Planet, People, Place and Performance – a blueprint for creating Pittsburgh as a truly liveable city for all – is not an afterthought.

It’s the first thought.



1. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Beechview Branch (Massery Photography, Inc.)

2. Project_RE (Urban Design Build Studio)

3. Hazelwood Neighborhood Center (Demarsh Photography)

Photos from AIA Pittsburgh Design 2015 website


environment, leadership, social change, social leadership
Written by

Rob Stephany

Program Director, Community & Economic Development

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