Lauded Midcentury City Square Receives a Much-Needed Revitalization

By Diana Budds / Published by Dwell
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After years of neglect, Mellon Square in Pittsburgh reemerges as a 21st-century public space.

Masterminded by the visionary landscape architect John O. Simonds, Mellon Square, in Pittsburgh, emerged in 1955 as the urban oasis downtown denizens sorely needed. Encompassing an entire city block, the 1.37-acre garden was the first to be constructed over a parking garage. "Pittsburgh then was notoriously smoky, gridlocked, and flood-prone," says Susan Rademacher, a curator at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the organization that spearheaded the land’s recent $10 million restoration, and author of Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014). "Downtown had zero designed public space, and Mellon Square was excitedly welcomed as a harbinger of wholesale change for the better."

Mellon Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, underwent a $10-million restoration in 2014.

Designed to be viewed at street level and via vantage points from the surrounding skyscrapers, the plaza features a distinctive triangular paving pattern of multitoned terrazzo, lush plants, ample seating, and an enormous fountain. 

Mellon Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, underwent a $10-million restoration in 2014. Since opening in 1955, the park has remained a beloved part of the urban fabric.

Mellon Square gradually fell into disrepair—waterproofing deteriorated, greenery died, surfaces succumbed to wear and tear—but it remained a treasured destination. The revitalized design, which broke ground in 2011 and opened in 2014, returned the space to its original luster. "Simonds’s emphasis on the design of experiences provided a humanizing adjustment to modernist landscape architecture," Rademacher says. "In planning, we faced the challenge of contemporary expectations of public space when Mellon Square was designed as a quiet oasis." 

The plan brought back the central fountain, updated mechanical systems, improved circulation, and fixed wear and tear, among other things.

Diana Budds

@dianabudds

A New York-based writer, Diana studied art history and environmental policy at UC Davis. Before rising to Senior Editor at Dwell—where she helped craft product coverage, features, and more—Diana worked in the Architecture and Design departments at MoMA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She counts finishing a 5K as one of her greatest accomplishments, gets excited about any travel involving trains, and her favorite magazine section is Rewind. Learn more about Diana at: http://dianabudds.com

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