Washington Plaza Apartments 
1420 Centre Avenue 
PA 15219

I.M. Pei and Partners 1964

Perched on a hill just west of Pittsburgh's downtown, I.M. Pei's Washington Plaza Apartments building is clearly visible from most of the downtown, northside and Duquesne University area. Standing at 300 feet tall (24 floors) the apartment tower seems almost disproportionately large next to its much smaller neighbors, many of which are small townhouses that were built after Washington Plaza was. Most of the residential building in this area of Pittsburgh was undertaken in an attempt to populate the hill behind Mellon Arena which was vacant for some time after a largely poor population was moved out of that area. As a result of this mass exodus, this area of town has never regained the livelihood it once had, thereby making some of the surrounding areas desolate during much of the day.

Differing from much of I.M. Pei's later work, Washington Plaza Apartments seem far more substantial and visually heavier than the primarily glass and steel construction that he would go on to be known for. It must be noted, however, that Pei achieves some of the very goals that he would go on to commonly arrive at by his use of shape, angles and lightness in Washington Apartments. He does this by his composition and repetitious rhythm of windows, as well as the buildingšs placement on the hill and its color.

Today, the buildingšs interior spaces (at least the public spaces) appear to have been redesigned, and resemble those of a mid-range chain hotel. As a result of this apparent re-design, interior spaces and detailing do not match the building's exterior presence, and the building is thus worth seeing primarily from the outside. 

There is nevertheless something mildly amusing about seeing the amenities with which the building was fitted in order to make it a structure in which occupants could live without much need for outside recreation or commerce. Perhaps taking cue from Le Corbusieršs Cité Radieuse, the bottom level of the building is outfitted with shops (a deli, beauty salon, dry-cleaner and optometrist) while the lobby level has a small gym, terrace and communal TV area. Though in retrospect most would agree that Corbusieršs plans for high density living now seem a bit naive (to say the least) these features seem to fit the demands of the building's current population, which is primarily made up of elderly and student tenants.

  K. Bellon 2003


How to visit

Visiting Washington Plaza Apartments stand about five blocks north of Mies van der Rohe's Mellon Hall of Science. Though the distance between the two is certainly walkable, some may find part of the area through which they would have to walk objectionable. Metered parking is available in the area surrounding the building, and access through the lower level door (by the north facing shops) is available during daytime hours. Multiple downtown-bound buses (such as 67H) stop near the building. For more information on bus routes visit www.portauthority.org

The building's own website, although primarily concerned with renting you an apartment, provides further practical information at www.washingtonplaza.com, or please telephone +1 412 391 9833.

Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture
Carter Wiseman

Not cheap, but popular, well reviewed, and by the author of Shaping a Nation - a master at architectural writing that is both accessible and insightful.


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