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Sculptures, lofts approved for Pittsburgh's cultural district

Thursday, July 26, 2001

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

If Downtown loft developer Eve Picker has her way, the cultural district soon will have a big jazz quartet performing outdoors year-round, through rain, sleet, snow, hail and the occasional ray of sun.

How big?


The musicians -- each about 3 feet wide by 15 feet tall -- will form a sculptural gateway to the forecourt of a building Picker wants to erect on a narrow, vacant lot at 947 Liberty Ave.

The three-story building, to be built at the rear of the lot, would house first-floor commercial space and two floors of rental lofts above. Picker envisions a restaurant that would spill out into the courtyard -- or, in her wildest dreams, a jazz club.

"I would love it to be a jazz bar," Picker told the city Art Commission, which yesterday gave conceptual approval to the project.

"You're giving up space you could be using to make money to provide an amenity for that difficult block," said an enthusiastic commission chairman, Lockwood Hoehl.

Picker plans to commission Pittsburgh sculptor James Simon to design and build the whimsical jazz giants, in steel-reinforced concrete that will be stained an earthy color compatible with the brick walls of adjacent buildings -- including the Bruno Building at 945 Liberty, which Picker converted to lofts.

The city Historic Review Commission, which approved the project earlier this month, had asked that whatever is built at the front of the courtyard emulate the height of a storefront.

"It was our intention to keep that rhythm of scale going down the street," Picker said.

The building, designed by EDGE architecture, will be a contemporary addition to the Penn-Liberty Historic District, with a simple glass curtain-wall facade.

"The building is a backdrop to the sculpture," said Picker, who now will begin seeking financing for the project, which also was approved by the city Planning Commission this week. She hopes to break ground in the fall, and complete the building and install the sculptures in the spring.

In other business, the commission, which reviews anything built on or over city property, gave preliminary approval to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum's design for a translucent addition that would link its present building with the city-owned, former Buhl Planetarium building. Museum director Jane Werner told the commission she has budgeted $500,000 to incorporate art in the museum's public spaces.

"We're looking for really different, creative ideas," she said.

The commission also approved the Pittsburgh Zoo's plan to restore and reinstall the zoo's six bronze griffins, long in storage, at the base of new lampposts that would replicate the historic design. They would be used to illuminate walkways at a proposed addition to the education complex, designed by Indovina Associates Architects.

Plans for the design of canoe and kayak racks along Pittsburgh riverfronts also got a thumbs-up from the commission. The racks, a project of Sustainable Pittsburgh, are designed by Pfaffmann + Associates and will allow boaters to temporarily dock and secure their craft while exploring city neighborhoods or attending events. The first one could be installed at South Side Riverfront Park by the end of the summer, said architect Rob Pfaffmann.

Also, the commission approved the Sports & Exhibition Authority's plan to rebuild the northern end of the Fort Duquesne Bridge pedestrian walkway, which was destroyed when Three Rivers Stadium was imploded. The reconstructed walkway will empty out between the relocated North Shore Drive and a planned brick esplanade. Construction will take four months but is not expected to begin this year.

Staff writer Caroline Abels contributed to this report.

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