A Civic Renewal
The REUSE of the Civic (Mellon) Arena is my proposal for Pittsburgh’s 250th Anniversary symbol. Let’s imagine an extreme makeover that captures its original 1950s hipness and gives it a new meaning and new purpose.
First a little history:
Throughout the first half of the 20th century we were known for our industrial innovation. This often came at a cost in terms of destruction our environment. In 1958, as part of the 200th Anniversary of Pittsburgh, ground was broken for this icon of modern design and engineering. It was a symbol of our recovery with its innovative movable domed roof showing off the clean air and skyline.
The Arena was designed as part of a visionary but misguided “Cultural Acropolis” for the Symphony akin to New York’s Lincoln Center, edged by then-trendy modern high rise residential towers offering clean new housing with the promise of light, space and views. Of course, there is another side of that story, the failure of urban renewal that still haunts residents of the Hill today. (See Chris Moore’s Wiley Avenue Days).
Keys to our future competitiveness will be about conservation, recycling and rebuilding green. So let’s imagine that the stainless steel-clad Igloo could become unique and a destination for visitors to learn of our innovative ways. It could become our answer to Chicago’s Millennium Park.
In order to visualize this transformation, imagine that we would remove most of the interior seating “bowl” and all of the non-structural stuff of the old arena. Now, stripped to its structural elegance, we would have the ability to build new uses within it (imagine a hermit crab!) and still have room for the coolest park around with a roof that opens in summer and closes in winter!
Imagine this circular park with lush landscape in summer and the recycled Pen’s rink in winter. It could have a small amphitheater next to the rink for jazz, Cirque du Soleil, Squonk Opera—all complementing the business for the new Arena. Imagine a hip “destination hotel,” retail, restaurants and a surrounding residential neighborhood with views every bit as dramatic as Mt. Washington. A key feature would be a reconnected Wiley Avenue connecting the City to the Hill once again.
This would not be an isolated place like it is today, but a truly “civic” space fully integrated with surrounding new development as a 250th Birthday symbol befitting Pittsburgh’s rebirth as a place of innovation.