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Science Center announces $90 million expansion

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As the new Steelers stadium rose from the ground over the past year, Carnegie Science Center officials worried that their building might be lost in the shadows.

Now they're taking direct action: a $90 million expansion that will nearly double the size of the present 200,000-square-foot building at the headwaters of the Ohio River.

At a news conference today, officials will announce that they've selected five world-class architects to compete in the design of the 160,000-square-foot addition to the science center.

They're hoping for a spectacular, eye-catching design, in which part of the new building might even arch out over the water.

"Architects have been extremely excited about the opportunities to participate in re-inventing the science center," said Ellsworth Brown, president of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

"The five finalists have been encouraged to build upon the unique aspects of the existing facility and take advantage of our proximity to the river."

The current science center, which opened in 1991 at a cost of $40 million, draws more than 600,000 visitors a year and touches another 200,000 through its outreach programs to schools.

Common Pleas Judge Frank Lucchino, who heads the center's board of directors, said yesterday that with the addition it will be possible for the center to draw 1 million to 1.2 million visitors.

"With the two new stadiums, people will be spectators, and that's a wonderful thing for the community," Lucchino said. "But this [science center expansion] is even better, because young people will be participants in the expanding of their minds. This will be a hands-on building."

The science center hopes to raise the $90 million it needs through a 50-50 match of public and private funds.

The General Assembly has already approved $45 million for the project. The money is included in the state's capital budget, but Gov. Tom Ridge must agree to release it. The center will seek the rest of the funds privately, at least in part through foundations.

The firm that will design the expansion is to be chosen by early January. The competing architects are:

Ben van Berkel, 43, who is from Holland and has designed bridges, museums, music halls and train stations in his native country, including the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam.

Peter Eisenman, 68, an American who designed the Aronoff Center for Design and Art at the University of Cincinnati; the Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio; the Center for Contemporary Arts in Tours, France; and the Staten Island Museum in New York.

Daniel Libeskind, 54, born in Poland and now an American citizen, who designed the Jewish Museum and the Weisbaden office complex, both in Berlin; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and the Bremen (Germany) Philharmonic Hall.

Jean Nouvel, 55, born in France, who designed the Institute of the Arab World in Paris; the Lyon (France) Opera House; the Euralille Shopping Center in Lille (France); and the Galeries Lafayette in Berlin.

Bernard Tschumi, 56, who was born in Switzerland and now lives in New York City and Paris, designed the Parc de la Villette in Paris; Alfred Lerner Hall at Columbia University in New York City; and the National Studio for Contemporary Arts in Tourcoing, France, and is designing the School of Architecture for Florida International University in Miami.

Lucchino said he was hoping for "a signature building," an individualistic structure that will bring attention to Pittsburgh the way the opera house in Sydney, Australia, or the new Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, have done for those cities.

"We want this building to be related in large measure to the river, perhaps cantilevered out over the water," Lucchino said. "The Riverlife Task Force is raising the level of our thinking about what can be done on our rivers."

The five firms will submit their concepts for the expansion by mid-November. The designs will be displayed in the lobby of the science center as well as on the center's Web site. The group that selecting the winning architect will include science center board members, architects and community leaders.

Lucchino said it will likely take most of next year for detailed architectural drawings to be completed, with construction work to begin in 2002.

The expansion of the Carnegie Science Center is a major part of burgeoning developments on the North Side, which are worth about $1 billion.

Besides the football stadium, those include PNC Park for the Pirates, a $47 million Allegheny riverfront park whose construction is expected to get under way soon, a new parking garage on General Robinson Street, and new office buildings, restaurants and taverns expected to be built between the stadiums.

Brown said the science center is "an integral part of the re-emergence of Pittsburgh's North Shore."

He said the expanded center will "educate and inspire visitors from across this region and prepare them for life in an increasingly technology-based economy."

In addition to the major expansion, the science center recently announced plans to open a $5 million exhibit, SportsWorks, focusing on sports and science in the former Miller printing company building next door.

Lucchino said the sports exhibits eventually will be moved inside the new addition once it is completed, probably in 2003.

Part of the expansion also will be a "discovery park," an outdoor area for exhibits, he added.

The expansion will likely occupy some of the area now taken up by parking lots. A new parking garage is planned, to be built somewhere west of the football stadium, for use both by sports fans and people going to the science center, Lucchino said.

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