Reviving a Rustbelt City
Leah Ray in PNC, Planning & Urban Design, Sustainability, Tall Buildings, Urban Planning

Q+A with Doug Gensler on why Three PNC Plaza, the first high-rise to be built in downtown Pittsburgh in the last 20 years, is so important to this rust-belt city's resurgence.

Why did PNC decide to build this project in this city?

PNC is based in Pittsburgh, and they were looking for an opportunity to make a positive contribution to their home town. When they acquired a property adjacent to their headquarters, they began thinking about ways to make Pittsburgh a more sustainable city. What I mean by this is that they were not only looking to construct a sustainable building, but they were also looking for ways to transform their city. They hoped to contribute to a future for Pittsburgh that was both environmentally and economically sustainable.

As you can imagine, this was no small task. Pittsburgh was experiencing a tremendous draught in downtown development largely because people were choosing to live and work in the suburbs, rather than the city. Entertainment and retail followed, leaving the downtown precinct devoid of a vibrant city center.

Yet Pittsburgh has great cultural institutions and sports venues, and it’s recently seen renewed interest in downtown reinvestment. Developers are seizing the opportunity to leverage the richness of the city by building places for people to live, work and play in the heart of the city. Pittsburgh corporations have invested in cultural institutions to bring richness to the cultural offering in Pittsburgh.  Finally, the city has been nationally recognized for its commitment to sustainability; it’s seen as a model for transforming languishing rust-belt cities into thriving sustainable communities. Many people and corporations support that, so people look to Pittsburgh to re-set our aspirations with regard to what struggling cities can become.

Three PNC Plaza means many things for Pittsburgh, and for PNC. It was the first tall building to be built in Pittsburgh for 20 years, so it reflects a commitment on PNC’s part to be an engaged citizen of their home town. It also affords the city the opportunity to attract a world-class hotel operator, Fairmont, to the urban core. The project also includes residential units and hotels, as well as one of the world’s major law firms, Reed Smith. The project converted derelict buildings into a world-class development that’s all about engaging its public and activating the street. In many ways, this project is about bringing downtown Pittsburgh back to life.


How is this project different from other tall buildings in downtown Pittsburgh?

Most—if not all—of the tall buildings in Pittsburgh are single-use buildings. They’re hotels, or office buildings, or retail centers. So if you think about when people use these buildings, you quickly realize that they have an impact on how dynamic Pittsburgh’s downtown streets are at different times of day. From 9 to 5, the business district is active, but then it quickly becomes a ghost town as people head home. Three PNC Plaza is a mixed-use building, with an array of things for people to do at any time of day. Because it operates on a 24/7 basis, the streetscape around the development is constantly active. This building has a life beyond 9 to 5, and in that respect, it’s a model for urban development.

What’s your favorite part of this project?

My favorite part of the project was easily the collaboration that went into making it.  Everyone—and there were many, many stakeholders, from the developer to corporations to community groups—was completely committed to creating a building that was what Pittsburgh and its community wanted. Our work at Three PNC Plaza is architecture that is inspirational yet modest, and true to its mission of redeveloping downtown Pittsburgh. People who live in Pittsburgh are excited about what this project has done to the street. The architecture is refined, yet appropriate for the scale and character of Pittsburgh.  It’s a model for cost-efficient mixed-use urban developments. This project isn’t about opulence and show; it’s about creating impact in a community, and bringing a city back to life.

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