View From Butler Street
View From Butler Street

This project is a home designed for an eye surgeon who is also a photographer, and a teacher. The couple, who were married as the project was under construction, needed a place to live where their children could come visit.  The site is located along a busy blue-collar Pittsburgh street that runs along the Allegheny River, connecting the city to its suburbs. There was an existing home on the property built in the 1920’s with a substantial concrete block base that was in good shape; but the two story wood structure above was falling to pieces.  We found the base to be particularly interesting because the original steel-framed windows were still in place and because the interior had once been used as a bootleg distillery!  The house is on an extremely steep site, perched between the street and a railroad line far below.


Our intent was to respond to the site context and to create a set of memorable experiences.  Our first decision was to preserve the masonry ground floor of the existing home but demolish – and subsequently rebuild – the insubstantial 2×4 framed building above.  The second was to design a bridge with metal grating that would allow Bob and Cyd to park on the project third floor, which is level with the street. This strategy has allowed us to preserve the existing site by planting all around the building, including under the bridge!  The third was to open the new construction as much as possible to the river view.  The fourth was to clad the new building volumes in Cor10 steel, providing a colorful, tough, industrial look that relates to Pittsburgh’s storied past.


Building an up-side-down house in which you access the building via a bridge, park on the street-adjacent roof, and then walk downstairs to reach the quieter living spaces below, created special structural challenges that we addressed in a variety of ways. The bridge structure and metal grating is steel, the concrete garage floor is supported with steel beams and joists, and the existing foundations are supported by mini-piles on three sides. Still the cost of this solution in total was somewhat less expensive than the driveway would have been, and much more interesting!


Our intent was to preserve the ground floor block base as precisely as possible. “Let new be new and old be old,” is our motto. We liked that this private soundproof mass would contain the bedrooms. However, most of the existing steel windows would not open and of course they were not insulated. We made the decision to remove the glass but carefully preserve the frames and install a secondary, interior-side, inward opening window system.


We combined a self-adhering sheet waterproofing membrane with furring strips and a storefront system snap-cap to create an affordable, innovative rainscreen system that resembles wood slats. To the best of our knowledge we are the first to use a snap-cap in this way!


Many thanks to contractor, John Cummings, structural engineer, Chris Kim, and talented interior designer, Lauren Levant, for their important contributions to this team effort on the Allegheny River!