Reuse of Ordinary Buildings: All around Pittsburgh, existing homes are being torn down to make way for new construction of dubious quality. In the past, only those buildings that were thought to be special were saved. As a result only a small portion of our past is being preserved. Our project demonstrates that ALL existing buildings, even those not designed by architects, deserve to be studied carefully and treated with the same respect as their larger more elaborate peers.

Due to their smaller size and less attachment from the community, ordinary buildings can change in response to new needs and desires in ways not possible with other strategies. Also, when an architect adapts an ordinary building, he or she is free to focus more on function and experience than on style. Most important, our planet simply can not afford to tear down buildings once they are obsolete, especially the 95% that are ordinary! Adaptive Reuse is a flexible, affordable, and sustainable alternative to demolishing ANY building and starting from scratch.

The project is an Adaptive Reuse 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 where they could live and where their seven children, the youngest of whom enters college this year, could stay from time to time.

The property is located along a busy blue-collar Pittsburgh street that runs along the Allegheny River. There was an existing ground floor distillery located on the site that was built in the 1920’s with a one story living space above. The substantial concrete block base, which featured thick walls and steel windows, was in good shape; but the wood structure above was falling to pieces. The site, which stretches between the street and a railroad line far below, was so steep that our contractor priced the cost of a new driveway at a thousand dollars per linear foot!

Our intent was to create a set of memorable experience by saving as much of the existing building as possible and responding to the site context. One of our first decisions was to preserve the masonry ground floor precisely but to demolish – and subsequently rebuild – the building above, paying particular attention to the points of contact where new and old construction met.

Next we decided to design a metal grating clad bridge that would allow the owners to park on the project third floor which is level with the street. Third we made every effort to open the new construction as much as possible to the river view. Last, we marked the building entry with a corrugated fiberglass canopy and clad the new building volumes in Cor10 steel, providing a colorful, tough, industrial look that relates to Pittsburgh’s storied past.

The new construction, with its emphasis on place, craft, and community, is functional and buildable, yet uniquely local to Pittsburgh.