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Mellon Square

Modern Landscapes

Mellon Square
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Mellon Square is the first modern garden plaza built over a parking structure in the United States, and one of the earliest examples of a green roof.  This square and parking garage was designed by the distinguished landscape architecture firm Simonds & Simonds and architects Mitchell & Ritchey, from the late 1940s through 1955 as a part of the first Pittsburgh renaissance. For Mellon Square’s 21st century renaissance Heritage Landscapes led a diverse team to develop the award-winning Mellon Square Preservation, Interpretation & Management Plan and followed on with phased implementation. Extensive research yielded a wealth of documentation to include 1955 and 1987 construction documents and hundreds of photographs. Field reconnaissance noted vegetation, built elements, and uses of the Square through behavior mapping.  Analysis revealed that Mellon Square is deteriorated and changes made in the 1980s altered and compromised this modern masterwork.  The 2009 plan documents, analyzes and directs this Modernist masterwork into the future through landscape restoration, new terrace design, interpretation and management.

Restoration and rehabilitation began in 2010, proceeding in phases, with Heritage Landscapes leading a talented interdisciplinary team. Reinstating the original water features, improving drainage, waterproofing, structural integrity, electric and water supply and lighting were all addressed. The innovative rough terrazzo paving was reconstructed where deteriorated. Granite planters bloomed again with flowering trees, shrubs and ground covers while canopy trees shaped spaces. Steps cleared of built-up efflorescence and replaced sleek aluminum handrails highlight the entry movements. The reconstructed main fountain returns a sense of grace to the interior of this urban oasis. The project created 15% more public space with a new terrace area overlooking Smithfield Street replacing the twice failed planting shelf.  Since reopening in May 2014, the restored and revitalized Mellon Square, a modern urban piazza and an artistic civic gathering place, that adds liveliness, beauty and green space to downtown Pittsburgh.

The project has sparked development interest in several adjacent buildings, leveraging large budgets and bringing construction jobs and new and more intensive uses to downtown.
In 2013, the surrounding area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district opening the opportunity to historic preservation tax credits and other financial benefits for current and future projects.

Leveraged results that accrued due to the project were the significant reinvestment triggered by the restored Mellon Square as millions of dollars flooded into the immediate area. The rehabilitation projects included:

  • PNC purchase and rehabilitation of the former Mellon Bank Building into a service center with some 700 employees.

  • $130 million Henry W. Oliver Building project to refurbish office space, insert an Embassy Suites Hotel on the upper floors, and construct ground-floor retail; development of a new 550-space parking garage and 75-100 residential units atop the garage at the corner facing the Cascade.

  • Upper floors converted into 241 condominiums at the former Alcoa Building, constructed with Mellon Square in the 1950s.

  • Development of a 249 room Hotel Monaco, by Kimpton Hotels at the James J. Reed on another corner.

Primary project outcomes of the project result from the revitalization of a significant work of modern landscape architecture in the city center. It is being touted as a leading effort in the 3rd Pittsburgh Renaissance.   Community outreach engaged citizens, historic importance and partnerships philanthropists, government and businesses yielding broad support.  The Benter Foundation funded an audio tour that raised awareness early on.  
These investments express a factor of 5% for the project versus 95% or greater in leveraged investments.

See Related Press Articles about Mellon Square

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Mellon Square Restoration and Rehabilitation, 2014;
Mellon Square Preservation, Interpretation, & Management Plan, 2008

Project Credits:
Heritage Landscapes, Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners, team lead, with Hilbish McGee Lighting Design, Allen & Shariff, Atlantic Engineering, Mortar & ink, Pfaffman + Assoc., HydroDramatics; and for planning report RSA Structural Engineers; Grenald Waldron Associates; Neil Silberman; La Quatra Bonci Assoc.; MTR Landscape Architects; EPD; The Cultural Landscape Foundation