O'Reilly Theater and Agnes R.
621 Penn Avenue
Michael Graves 1996-1999
Built in the heart of
Pittsburgh's Cultural District, the O'Reilly Theater is in reality a
three-part project which includes not only the actual home of Pittsburgh's
Public Theater, but also a large parking garage (Theater Square) and the
Agnes R. Katz Plaza. Like many other cities the size of Pittsburgh, the
city has recently tried a great deal of plans in order to have suburban
residents come back to downtown after the work day is over for
entertainment, shopping and cultural activities. As part of such a plan,
the city designated much of its northern downtown area as the Cultural
Built at a cost of $25 million,
the 650-seat capacity theater opened in December of 1999, and became
perhaps the first building of importance to go up in Pittsburgh's downtown
since Philip Johnson's PPG Place.
Though less imaginative in its use of materials, and clearly dwarfed by
the sheer size of PPG Place, the O'Reilly Theater gives the city of
Pittsburgh the opportunity to see Postmodernism through someone else's
eyes than Johnson's. Unlike PPG's literal translation of classic forms
into modern materials, the O'Reilly Theater seems more subdued.
Graves' signature use of color
is unmistakable, and gives the Cultural District a much-needed human
touch. Aside from color, the theater's proportions also help bring the
structure down to human scale. A curved roof swoops down towards visitors,
making the double-height lobby appear less monumental from the outside.
This slight deception has an almost Wrightian effect on visitors. Upon
approaching the theater visitors almost squeeze into the entranceway only
to arrive to a grand double-height lobby, much like one must make one's
way through a small hallway and doorway in a Wright home only to often
arrive to a bedroom with high ceilings.
It is this very attentiveness to
human proportion, interaction and detail that makes this project
particularly successful, and that makes the surrounding performance areas
seem unnecessarily complex and uninviting, since most are sad attempts at
replicating European-style performance halls. Like similar performance
halls in other cities, the O'Reilly Theater¹s neighbors often leave
pedestrians clueless as to what the building's function is, and seldom
(even with all their ornamentation) have any sense of human scale, thus
seeming uninviting and generic.
Another aspect of the project
that makes it work well within the urban context is the Agnes R. Katz
Plaza. A collaboration between artist Louise Bourgeois, landscape
architect Daniel Urban Kiley and Graves, the 23,000 square foot plaza is a
lively center of activity in downtown Pittsburgh. The plaza works well
with the pared down references to classical forms, which to inform
passers-by of the building's function, while avoiding the almost
caricature-like nature of PPG Place.
K. Bellon 2003
How to visit
The O'Reilly Theater is located
in downtown Pittsburgh, on Penn Avenue about a five-minute walk away from PPG
Street parking can be found
around this part of downtown, but during daytime hours, it might be best
to park at the theater's parking garage (its entrance is on 7th
For more information and
directions, visit the Pittsburgh Public Theater's website at www.ppt.org
or call the theater for more information on +1 412 316 8200.
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