Tweetcap: BIG Design Charette

Tonight I logged on to Twitter for the first time in 3 years to live-tweet the design charette being led by BIG, the firm that was selected to develop the plan for the project at the old Civic/Mellon Arena. Live-tweeting was not as unbearable as I thought it would be, and I got three new followers out of it. So join me tomorrow as I live-tweet lunch. #loadedfries.

Here’s the recap. I’ll intersperse it with some afterthoughts. Oh, and I guess I should explain some of the backstory. So, the briefest of histories: the Hill District was first a thriving black community. A huge part of the neighborhood was bought by the city to build the Civic Arena and was designed to be an opera house. Turns out, acoustics were terrible and was turned into a hockey stadium and rock concert venue. In the process of developing the site, the city cut off the rest of the Hill District from downtown, economically destroying the neighborhood. Some decades later, the Penguins build a new arena (the Consol Energy Center), ultimately dooming the now-beloved Civic Arena to be demolished. Now “we” (the community, the city, the private developers) are deciding what to do. Part of the site will be offices for U.S. Steel, and the proposed design for those offices is, let’s say, not great. Enter BIG, led by Bjarke Ingels, a young rockstar in the architecture community. They will be proposing a design for the rest of the site, which will be primarily residential (for the first phase at least). BIG led the charette, which is architect-speak for “brainstorming session”.

Now here’s the recap for real.

That’s iced tea, not beer. And a pink Ikea umbrella that I stole from James Gallery.

Good move to get ahead of the “you people come into our neighborhood with your BIG ideas” narrative.

Speaking of “you people”, here’s the current project team:


Waited 11 minutes to drop a Steelers reference. Way too long IMHO.

I expected other architectural buzzwords, there weren’t many. Lots of mentions of “championships”, though. And public spaces. No spoilers.

Actually, if you only count time from when the presentation started, it was more like 20 minutes flat. Kai had, by this point, handed the microphone over to Jamie Maslyn Larson of West 8, lead landscape architect for the project. Jamie did not immediately mention the Steelers, which left the door open for suspicion of gentrification. Let that be a lesson.

Also, the venue really didn’t do the design team a whole lot of favors:


You’re practically asking for a  gentrification talk when you hold your charette in the fucking Lexus Club, a part of the Consol Energy Center accessible only to “Premium Ticket Holders”, AKA where rich people go when they want to take in a hockey game but not have to smell the unwashed masses.

Another move to cut off debate about “why didn’t we just keep the Civic Arena” and other not-so-productive lines of conversation. Seriously, though, I will take that $5 bet all day. I’ll start an escrow account tomorrow if you want.


There were other references, too, but I type too slow and my brain can either hear things or thumb-type. Incidentally, I saw Van Halen at the Civic Arena. Kai-Uwe Bergmann is in my brain.

I don’t have to tell you that #JCVD stands for Jean Claude Van Damme, do I?

[not pictured] Too slow on the camera. I’m new to the live-tweet thing, shut up. Also, the picture would have sucked anyway because I was in the back. Just trust me on this, though, there was lots of ‘red’ on that map.

This park was a hot button that BIG was careful not to push. There was a distinct “this is not our problem, please don’t ask us about it, talk to your representative” vibe, and some comments from the gallery when it was brought up. I have no idea what it’s about, to be honest. I found this article (scroll to the bottom), but it does not address any controversy, so if you know leave a comment.

[not pictured] Yeah, I know.

Notice: no real mention of form yet. And the aforementioned, unpictured graphics shows the area that could be filled, now how they proposed to fill it.

Yeah, the brisket was pretty good.

I walked around to the various tables, listening in, trying to get the temperature, and the main thrust of what people were getting at. BIG took the idea of “listening” to an extreme, almost to the point of frustrating people. The BIG representatives were being asked, “what are you thinking?”, “what are you proposing?”, and they would all defer or turn the question around. I’d say the atmosphere was generally tense, but nobody I saw reached the point of visible anger.

^ when people do that kind of homework to come to a design charette, you know that they care.

Randy Rhoads? Original guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne? Come on:

That’s a strong reference right there. Anyway, moving on:

I think Bergmann was bringing this up to assuage concerns, as in: we know how to address issues of affordability and cost, because look at our past projects, we don’t have issues with that. But the countries he mentioned are socialist countries, and we only have about another year and a half left under King Socialist Fascist Dictator Barack Hussein Obama, so it’s unclear to me how exactly that experience will translate to this market.


A bunch of Scandinavians in the Hill District, they’ll be a reg’lar part of the landscape.

I joke! Good on them, though. Not doing a lot of community design, I sometimes think about what the best way to get to people is. These charettes are really good, but they only reach a narrow band of people, and it’s a certain type of people (very vocal, very opinionated) that tends to come out for these kind of meetings. There’s a lot of people in the neighborhood that never hear about these events, or can’t go to them, or think it’s a waste of time, but might still have plenty to bend your ear about if you meet them on the street. So hopefully they’re out there listening while they’re spending money.

There you have it, tweetcap over. The next meeting is open to the public, so if you have something to say, leave it in the comments and bring it to the next meeting.

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