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Editorial: Museum piece

A striking design for an expanded children's attraction

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Another step forward toward expansion of the popular Pittsburgh Children's Museum has been taken with the selection of a California architecture and planning firm as the winner of a design competition.

The winning design, by Koning Eizenberg Architecture of Santa Monica, would create a new front door and entrance hall for the museum, along a reopened East Ohio Street. That new entrance is provided by a new energy-efficient structure that would link the neo-classical former Allegheny Post Office and the art moderne Buhl Planetarium building.

The new structure, with its folded, transparent walls, would resemble a Noguchi rice paper lamp. It would house classrooms on the two upper floors. At night, it would be a spectacular addition to the city, its "night light" symbolism providing a sense of security to all who view it.

There will, of course, be adjustments to the winning proposal, to make sure that it works optimally with its architectural environment and the surrounding street patterns. Particular care needs to be taken with proposed new elements such as the addition of a long, steel-framed "veranda" and awning onto the Buhl building.

Another concern that needs to be addressed are the winning team's ideas for a new children's park on the site of Allegheny Center's sunken plaza - a requirement of the competition. The plan calls for a lawn sloping down to a pond with nearby rocks and wild plants. Some think that's a bit too rural for an urban area. Others believe it would be a nice "green" addition to the area. Before proceeding with the plan, careful thought will have to be given to how much use the park is likely to receive.

The major obstacle to translating this design into reality isn't architectural; it's financial. The price tag on the expansion is $10 million, and generosity will be required from foundations, corporations and individuals.

It would be money well spent. The Children's Museum, one of the area's most popular family attractions, is bursting at the seams, with inadequate space for exhibits and cramped conditions for visitors. The museum needs to grow - and the design competition offers a way for it to grow with grace.

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