Schenley Plaza

Designers: Sasaki Associates | City: Pittsburgh, PA | Project Type: plaza, sustainable infrastruction, stormwater management
Date Visited: 09.14.12
Location: 4100 Forbes Ave.
Size: 4.5 acres
Cost: $12 million
Official Opening Date: June 2006

Pittsburgh takes a lot of pride in Schenley Plaza. Decorated in awards from the Silver Award for Environmentally Sustainable Projects to the 2008 Best Place to Hang Out award, Schenley Plaza even celebrates its development in a large exhibit that traces the site’s history entitled “From Pavement to Paradise: The Evolution of Schenley Plaza.”

Located right next to the University of Pittsburgh campus, the area was flooded with students on their laptops, sunbathing on the lawns, and grabbing lunch from one of the many food kiosks. I bought a gyro from one of the closest kiosks–the place was really busy–and headed for the event tent where live music was playing.

At the turn of the 19th century, the City of Pittsburgh purchased St. Pierre’s Ravine, the area now know as Schenley Plaza. On the suggestions of the City’s Director of Public Works, Edward Bigelow, and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the ravine was filled in to create a formal entrance plaza. In 1949, however, rising demand for additional parking beat out Bigelow and Olmsted’s plans. Asphalt took the place of greenery and the plan for a grand plaza was temporarily scrapped.

In 2004, inspired by New York City’s successful Bryant Park, officials finally sought to turn Schenley Plaza into an entry plaza. Departing from Olmsted’s original vision for a symmetrical Beaux Arts design, the interdisciplinary planning and design firm Sasaki Associates created an asymmetrical design that implemented various cost-saving, “green” design techniques, from abundant native plantings to custom-engineered soil that maximized absorption rates.

The welcoming social gathering space also features lunchtime concerts throughout the summer, a carousel, a grand lawn for events, and free wifi.

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