O'Reilly Theater and Agnes R. Katz Plaza 
621 Penn Avenue 
PA 15222

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 District.

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 Place

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 Street). 

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.

Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


Michael Graves: Building and Projects 1995-2002
Francisco Sanin



All links outside galinsky will open in a new window. Close it when you've finished, or use the Window menu on your browser, to return to galinsky.


   Welcome    |    About galinsky    |    Contact/contribute    |    Architects    |    Europe    |    North America    |    Travel packs

   copyright © galinsky 1998-2006. e-mail info@galinsky.com