Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Should Point Park University preserve historic facades?

Well, yet again there is a heated discussion going on at the Pittsburgh development discussion on  Point Park University proposed to build a student activity center along Wood Street in Downtown.  In an initial rendering back in 2008, they showed three historic 3-story buildings transformed into a student recreational center.  In a Post-Gazette article from today, the university apparently is considering demolition of these buildings in order to construct a new three-story building.  Housing was also to be in consideration, but the university apparently backed away from that.  In the next few paragraphs is an argument of the pros and cons of preservation versus demolition.


When you preserve a facade of a building considered historically significant, you are essentially preserving that place's history and helping to tell its story and how it fit into the fabric that was the city at the time.  When you have a series of these types of buildings, each building basically becomes a chapter in the overall story of that neighborhood.  Each building will bring character to a neighborhood.  When a series of such buildings is present, it essentially gives off a vibe that tells outsiders, "hey, this city is proud of its past; it is proud of where it has been, and wants that part of it to be around for future generations in some form."

One large negative, however, is if we preserve too much of our past, this will give off the vibe that would suggest this city does not favor change.  This vibe will often turn away new businesses from establishing or growing a presence in the area, and it could turn away would-be residents if newer buildings with the latest amenities are not built.


Taking a wrecking ball to an older building does open things up for new opportunities to move on. Tearing down an older structure in favor of newer development can often be for the better. Appropriate times for demolition may include:

  • Building is considered unsafe; too costly to remodel
  • A developer envisions something else in its place (Case en point with Oxford's proposal for a 33-story building in place of a 7-story structure dating to the 1910s.
  • The building is outdated or unusable (see also Mellon Arena).
If buildings are torn down solely for the purpose of just tearing them down rather than integrating them with newer development could be a detriment. Examples of this are far too numerous to list.  One glaring example would be Buncher's plan for the Produce Terminal.  Buncher wants to demolish a large portion of this building to construct a plaza in its place rather than thinking outside the box to devise a way to integrate this building into their vision for this neighborhood.

My verdict

I am all in favor of preserving, but only when it makes sense; it is sensible for the neighborhood and its vision for future generations.  If buildings are derelict to the point where renovations are not possible, then there would be no choice but to demolish such structures to make way for future development.  Otherwise, developers should take historic or potentially historic buildings into consideration when proposing a new development.  Oxford is proposing a large high-rise building in place of an existing 90-year old structure, but it is also considering a remodel of this existing structure if interest in the high-rise is not present.

In the case of these Wood Street buildings, I think preservation should happen. These old buildings would make for one heck of a student rec center.

to view the Post-Gazette article:

To view the discussion on skyscraperpage: