The Heinz Endowments, among the 50 largest philanthropic organizations in the United States, is uniquely qualified to foster innovation in the context of community and history. Since its establishment, it has been devoted to using southwestern Pennsylvania as “a laboratory for the development of solutions to challenges that are national in scope.” Through its continued support of innovation, the organization has been instrumental in powering systemic impact economically, ecologically, educationally, and culturally through times of economic downturn and uncertainty.
In 2015, the Endowments set out to create a more collaborative and responsive grantmaking strategy for its five programs, and it needed a venue that would support and facilitate this energized process. Inherent in this plan was the need for the space to embody the foundation’s commitment to sustainability and community development while paying homage to the city’s robust history. To honor that rich history, a powerful gesture was required, a gesture that is specific to Pittsburgh and evokes the shared memory of our city.
Project RE_, a grantee of the Heinz Endowments, is a program of the Urban Design Build Studio (UDBS) of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture and a partnership with Construction Junction and the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh (TIP). Construction Junction provides the materials. The students of the UDBS then try to determine ways to reimagine their use, and collaborate directly with trainees from TIP, a program that provides training in the construction trades for formerly incarcerated men and women.
Project RE_ was engaged to create a feature wall to serve as an abstract symbol of Pittsburgh history. Located at the entry to the conference center, the wall created is comprised of steel plates used by TIP welding apprentices during their training. As part of that training, students are required to practice their skills by welding together two steel plates. Rather than being thrown away, these plates were then assembled to form the wall.
Each weld bears the physical presence of the student who made it: irregularities, tentative starts and stops, jagged lines all are evidence of the student’s hand. Placed together, these steel plates create a mosaic of the students’ training. Used this way, the wall communicates more than a conventional nod to the “Steel City,” it is a celebration of redemption – of individuals and of a city opening itself up to a brighter future.
The feature wall, portions of which are reclaimed from historical sites including the Liberty Bridge and the old H.J. Heinz Factory, sits in juxtaposition with transparent curving glass that encloses the conference rooms. Ethereal and mysterious, these walls call up the malleability of the future. Between the heavy, tactile mass of the feature wall and the soft bend of the glass wall is a planted vertical landscape: a material symbol of growth and vibrancy.
As part of its efforts to welcome a diverse range of visitors, flexibility in the allocation and use of the space was crucial. To provide accommodations for workgroups of various sizes, each of the conference rooms are separated by folding partitions that are integrated with the existing building structure. The result is a dynamic, fluid series of spaces enclosed in frameless curving glass that can accommodate a range of groups. When all partitions are open, space is provided for more than 50 people for large group functions. Audiovisual technology made it possible to adapt to multiple room configurations. By utilizing the advanced technology, the Endowments created a series of rooms that allow for groups to be working simultaneously on different projects while still maintaining the option to join together for collaborative sessions.
Today, the offices at the Heinz Endowments are living bi-products of its contribution to the legacy of a city. At every corner, guests are faced with an illumination of the past as a path forward for the individuals who call Pittsburgh home now and for decades to come.