PPG Place
One PPG Place
Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania 15272 
USA
 

Philip Johnson and John Burgee 1981-1984 
Graphic Design and signage by Massimo Vignelli (also responsible for all graphic design in Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao).

PPG Place, a large building complex including a 40-story tower (635 feet) with five satellite buildings that cover a six city block area, was designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. The large urban complex was in part inspired by two existing architectural landmarks in Pittsburgh, the Cathedral of Learning in the University of Pittsburgh's campus and H.H. Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse (both worth visiting when in Pittsburgh). In PPG Place, Johnson made loose use of Gothic architectural vocabulary, translating it into modern materials and construction techniques. Dedicated in the same year as the AT&T building in New York City, PPG Place stands perhaps as one of Johnson's buildings that best demonstrates his wit and affinity for mixed messages. By mixing historical forms with modern methods of construction, Johnson created a post-modernist building which is truly unique, in part due to its use of materials, which were immensely appropriate since PPG is a leading manufacturer of curtain wall assemblies.

 

 

PPG Place uses a textural rendition of curtain wall construction (unlike the AT&T building which has a granite facade) while further emphasizing its textural elements with the use of white aluminum framing around the reflective glass. This white framing became a point of contention between Johnson and PPG. It was only when Johnson took his 'patrons' (as Johnson often refers to clients) up to a hill across the river to see a full-size mock-up of a portion of the building that the matter was put to rest. In the end, Johnson got his way, and thus the building now has its distinctive white framing, and in the night the almost gothic pinnacles are lit internally by fluorescent bulbs.

PPG Place now stands as an important fixture in the Pittsburgh skyline, with its plaza (and its pink granite obelisk, which is covered by a Christmas tree in the wintertime) being rethought as a possible center of downtown activity. Starting in the Christmas season of 2002/2003, the plaza features an ice skating rink in the wintertime, and in the spring a water fountain around the obelisk. Both of these attractions are attempts to bring much needed foot traffic to the sometimes-desolate plaza. Locals have often referred to the plaza as the "Tomb of the Unknown Bowler", not only due to its often-vacant stretches but also to bowling ball like spheres that are part of the obelisk. The complex has also been called "The Fortress Of Solitude", in reference to Superman's icy retreat. In the past, Philip Johnson¹s structures have often been nicknamed by local folk, and thus PPG stands in good company with other buildings like the AT&T building in New York (often referred to as the Chippendale building). 

 

 

 

Overall, visiting the building is quite rewarding since the sheer size of the complex and its unusual detailing make it as unique as it does successful. The very repetitive nature of the detailing is interesting but in a sense makes the visit to the complex a short one, since turning a corner can only mean more of the same. The positive part of this aspect is that from varying points of view one can see interesting and unusual combinations of the main building with pinnacles from smaller buildings intersecting one's view.

 

K. Bellon 2002 (updated 2007)


How to visit

Visiting PPG place is relatively easy due to its downtown location. The complex is only about two blocks from 'The Point' (a park at the tip of Pittsburgh's downtown where the Ohio River starts.) Parking is available in many lots around the complex, as well as street parking (mostly after business hours). Downtown-bound buses (61C, 67H and many others) make stops directly in front of the complex. There is also a T (Pittsburgh's light rail system) stop across from the main tower. For more information on bus or T service visit www.portauthority.org

By far the best view of the complex in its urban context can be enjoyed from Mt. Washington, the hill directly to the south from downtown Pittsburgh (on the other side of the Monongahela River). Mt. Washington can be reached via car by making the last right turn after the Liberty Bridge, before entering the Liberty Tunnels and simply going uphill. A second option is going up the hill by taking an incline. 

The winter garden, shops and lobbies are open to the public year round during business hours. The plaza is open 24 hours a day. For more information please call +1 412 434 3131.


Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from

The architecture of Philip Johnson
Philip Johnson, Richard Payne (Photographer), Hilary Lewis, Stephen Fox

The authorized and up-to-date account of Philip Johnson's wide-ranging and long-spanning architectural career

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