Friday, April 8, 2011

Carnegie Mellon Unveils Design for Stunning Mixed-Use Tower

Okay, not really.  BAIT & SWITCH!  Actually, I am revealing a sketch of what I think CMU should build (but never will).  The Software Engineering Institute, where I work, is quickly running out of room to accommodate growth, and we're planning to construct a new building on Forbes Avenue, directly across Panther Hollow from the Collaborative Innovation Center--which looks kind of like a giant glass-paneled appliance on stilts--and across the street from such fine establishments as the perpetually smoky PHI Bar (Panther Hollow Inn), a sadly deteriorating concrete building of the Brutalist school that houses Navy ROTC offices, and a parking lot where a gas station used to be with a bunch of tacky cement urns in front.  The site itself, spanning from Craig Street to the Forbes Panther Hollow bridge, once sported a number of charming Victorian-style houses, a vintage threads shop called Crimes of Fashion, an Italian restaurant, and a gay bar called Holiday that always emanated a sickening smell like a combination of candy hearts and cigarette smoke from the front door.  Alas, those buildings were destroyed, and all that remains is a temporary experimental garden gone wrong (at least I think it was supposed to be a garden...), another parking lot, and a hot contender for America's Most Offensively Ugly Bank Building.  That last one, in my opinion, should be emptied and then burned to the ground in celebration whenever demolition time rolls around.

The building that I have in mind, as sketched during a staff meeting a few days ago, is 24 floors tall and would act as an intriguing and aesthetically daring architectural counterpoint to the Cathedral of Learning three blocks away.  The complex, in simple terms, can be broken programatically into four areas.  The lower half of the tower--about ten floors--would consist almost entirely of new offices for the Software Engineering Institute and Carnegie Mellon.  This part of the building assumes the shape of a truncated pyramid, sloping gently inward on three sides (excluding the back) as it rises, so the floor plates decrease slightly in size with each progressive floor.  The top half of the tower would contain high-end apartments and condos leased by CMU.  Next to the tower, fronting Forbes Avenue, would be a lowrise retail and restaurant complex as well as a tranquil courtyard space--a landscaped urban refuge.  In the rear, replacing what is now an unusable and unkempt plot overgrown with weeds and mangy trees that slopes down to the base of the hollow, would be a multi-level parking structure and delivery dock.  The whole ensemble would be finished in two or three varieties of handsome energy-efficient glass curtain wall, stainless steel cladding, metal fins bringing both sun shading and texture to the exterior, and smooth gray concrete.  Between the commercial and residential sections of the tower is a two-floor transitional zone that would contain a cafeteria and events area for CMU/SEI, an outdoor terrace, and a private lobby serving the residential floors above.  The top of the building features a public restaurant and bar, another outdoor terrace, and additional spaces designed for meetings and conferences.  Overall, the building would quite simply be the most awesome structure ever built by CMU--the Gates Center's hot new next-door neighbor with long legs and attitude.
As for the colors used in the quick rendering here, let's say that those are a bit exaggerated.  I would tend to use a unique type and color of glazing to visually differentiate the separate functional sections of the building, but pink and pea green are probably taking it a bit too far.  Varying hues and opacities of blue glass, along with subtle differences in the arrangement of mullions and spandrel panels (which mark where each floor is) would do the trick quite well.  I would also prefer to take the building height up another ten floors or so, but even 24 floors is most likely far higher than what is allowed by local zoning regulations.

We can all dream, can't we?!  By conjuring up hundreds of fantasty skyscraper projects and super-contemporary urban dwellings that will never exist, as I've been doing for many years, sketching out ideas on cocktail napkins and notebook paper (and meeting agenda outlines...), I'm at no greater a disadvantage than the thousands of once-idealistic young architects out there who will never land a contract to design anything higher than three floors, more funky than a boutique interior, more progressive than some glitzy corporate headquarters sprawling over golf course-perfect grounds.  But hey, I don't mean to criticize; even those commissions have the potential to become singular works of architectural art bursting with possibility--and I certainly wouldn't pass them up if given the opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. The whole ensemble would be finished in two or three varieties of handsome energy-efficient glass curtain wall, Stainless Steel Cladding, metal fins bringing both sun shading and texture to the exterior, and smooth gray concrete.