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Science center holds sneak preview of makeover

Friday, July 19, 2002

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Through a wall of windows on the west side of Heinz Field, the Carnegie Science Center and its parking lot loom large on the landscape, making the stadium's second floor the perfect setting for a two-day workshop on how the 13-acre science center site will evolve over the next six years.

Center officials invited community groups and government agencies to react to a preliminary master plan for the makeover, prepared by Parisian architect Jean Nouvel, who also is designing the center's building expansion.

They expect to have a final design in April, break ground in 2004 and complete the $90 million project in 2006.

"We want to develop a dialogue that informs the design process," science center Director Seddon Bennington said at Wednesday morning's opening session.

With drawings and a small model, Nouvel showed how the center's parking lot would be transformed into a densely wooded Discovery Park framed by two garages and the expanded science center.

To gain space for the park, the architect suggests moving the road that bisects the site farther to the north, separating the park from a proposed new parking garage primarily for commuters who would transfer to the city's expanded light-rail line. The science center's own garage would be on the eastern edge of the park.

"I like the increased green space on the North Shore. I think it's a very beautiful design," said Bernie Swegman of the Army Corps of Engineers, one of 30 people who attended. "We need softer vistas."

In response to architect Roxanne Sherbeck's question about what effect Nouvel's cantilevered building would have on views of Downtown from farther down the Ohio River, Nouvel said the building's transparency would minimize the impact.

"You'll see exactly what you see now," he said.

But the building's design still is very much in flux, as the center explores its programming needs, estimates costs and weighs how much architecture it can afford. Preliminary estimates for Nouvel's original scheme came in over the center's $90 million budget.

Nouvel's high regard for the industrial character of Pittsburgh's riverfront often was apparent in his responses.

When city planner Bob Reppe made the point that the center's loading dock would be close to a proposed small inlet or cove just west of the building, Nouvel said the loading dock "is exactly like the spirit of the river. I like the contrast between the industrial and the natural. I like trucks. It could be good, but we have to think [about] that."

Dennis Tubbs, aquatic resources program specialist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, asked for a soft shoreline to lessen the wake from power boats and give people a chance to touch the water with their hands or feet.

"It's not a true, pretty river. You cannot go in it like a beach," Nouvel said. "Why do you want to put your feet in the water?"

"I'm not sure we've come to any strong conclusions" about the river's edge, Bennington said. "But the idea of a soft edge is very appealing. We have the opportunity to assert a more natural habitat. We're going to be encouraging Jean [Nouvel] to think about how this is an opportunity to humanize the environment."

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