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Three rivers may be a point of light

Plan uses lasers to brighten city

Saturday, April 24, 2004

By Patricia Lowry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A new lighting plan for Downtown Pittsburgh celebrates the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers with crossed laser beams of green light, creating an X where the rivers form a Y.

The beams, which would emanate from the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne bridges and from new vertical structures at Carnegie Science Center and a parking lot on the opposite shore, sometimes could be directed to converge on the fountain at the Point.

The Ohio Gateway is the most prominent, signature element of a multilayered scheme presented yesterday by Art2Architecture, a consultant to the Riverlife Task Force. From a boat, "It would be like a sky gateway as you approach the Point," said Art2Architecture co-founder Peter Fink.

The London-based firm unveiled its vision for illuminating Three Rivers Park in a series of three public presentations at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. About 100 people attended.

The proposed park, commissioned by Riverlife and conceived by Massachusetts-based Chan Krieger & Associates in 2001 as a giant Y, would comprise more than 200 acres of land and water, extending from the West End Bridge on the Ohio to the 10th Street Bridge on the Monongahela and to the 16th Street Bridge on the Allegheny. One of the key recommendations of that plan was to link the riverfronts with a Y-shaped loop trail around the Point.

The lighting plan also emphasizes connections, with the X visually linking the North Shore and the South Side.

But to play up the dramatic possibilities of light, the city first would have to tone it down.

"Pittsburgh is a city of lights for all the wrong reasons," Fink told about 20 people this morning at 8:30. "Standing on Troy Hill, you would think the steel mills are still going. The amount of it that's emanating out of Pittsburgh is absolutely phenomenal."

Fink said installing inexpensive shields on streetlights in North Shore parking lots would help reduce excess light.

"Lighting can only be seen as a transformative thing if it exists with darkness," Fink said. "You don't need to light everything in a robust way. You could light 12 bridges for the budget of lighting three by working with reflections off the water."

Fink, an artist, and architect Igor Marko, his partner, envision lighting most of the bridges with a soft, gold light, and using a system of green and gold lighting for riverfront edges and walkways.

At Point State Park, they also would illuminate the outlines of Fort Duquesne and the Fort Pitt Music Bastion replica, which is expected to be filled in but remain in outline form in brick or stone. The park's Portal Bridge would be washed in sky blue light, while other pastel colors would emanate from the fountain basin in broad spokes of light.

The intersecting beams of the Ohio Gateway would be green because the park is about water and nature, Fink said.

"The X is, like, one of the neatest ideas I've ever seen," said graphic designer Brett Yasko of the Strip District in a feedback session after the presentation. "There are so many people who go to St. Louis to see the arch. And it's just light, not this structure that takes millions and millions of dollars to build."

There are no cost estimates for any or all of the proposed concepts, but an estimate for the Ohio Gateway should be available in about two weeks, Fink said. "We could get national sponsors because it has national significance" as the historic gateway to the west. Funds for other projects could come from the state and other public and private sources.

In addition to permanent installations, Art2Architecture also suggests temporary light events, such as a "Rivers of Light" display in 2006 that would feature thousands of floating, bubble-like spheres of vacuum-formed polycarbonate, a type of plastic, each containing a battery-powered strobe producing steady or pulsing light.

The plan's other ideas include:

Creatively lighting the inside of the Fort Pitt Tunnel to heighten the experience of entering the city.

Science Center Square, an interactive light feature for the North Shore, with colored beams of light streaming from three contemporary windmill-like structures in front of Heinz Field. The rays of light would shine on performers and visitors as they moved along the esplanade, following people at their own pace. A series of three wind turbines nearby would generate electricity for the project as a demonstration of alternative energy.

Closing the 10th Street Bypass on weekends and opening it to markets and fairs as a way of bringing people closer to the riverfront.

Celebrating the vista of Penn Avenue Downtown by illuminating the floor of the street and some of the architecturally significant buildings.

Lighting the trees along the natural riverbanks to reveal their sculptural qualities.

Lighting the city steps in Pittsburgh neighborhoods. "There are many hidden places from which you can have spectacular views of Pittsburgh," Fink said. "But people don't know how to find them or are afraid to go there."

Fink recommends the city take a holistic approach to lighting, linking it with sustainable economic development projects and building it into design guidelines.

"The lighting scheme needs to evolve with principles of sustained urbanism," Fink said. "To create value and then sustain it, it must be linked to other things."

Art2Architecture, which has designed lighting installations for several cities in Britain, is midway through its Pittsburgh plan and expects to complete the final version in June.

Images of the concepts can be viewed now at http://www.post-gazette.com and in two weeks at http://www.pittsburghriverlife.org.

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Thanks DC,

Im not that keen on the "laser light show" aspect of it all seems a tad bit Sea Worldish, but hey they did do some fantastic and forward thinking lighting on the Science Center, and Smithfield St. Bridge in the 90s and just recently on the Clemente Bridge a few years back, superb. If just some of this comes to pass it will be great for the city, Corporate sponsorships, Corporate sponsorships, Corporate sponsorships!!!!

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I like this bold idea. Pittsburgh needs to take drastic action to change the negative perception many have of it.

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I don't think Pittsburgh's problem is a BAD image outside the Pittsburgh region - its the fact that Pittsburgh doesn't have enough of an image that says "come here and visit me."

May sound like a broken record, but Pittsburgh needs to be more pro-active. Chambers of commerce, politicians, and businessmen in the Pittsburgh area need to go out of their way to get other business to look at the city. That means making phone calls, printing brochures and deluging people with them (particularly business that looks to expand outside its area).

Pittsburgh can do it if it has some more ambition. If I heard any Pittsburgher complain about where they live, I'd like to force them to live in rural TN for a while.

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Heckles,

They are getting the word out well in the last 10 years or so, there are things I would do somewhat differently but I can't blame the city and county and regional planners for lack of effort.

http://www.presentingpittsburgh.com

http://www.planpittsburgh.com

http://www.pittsburgh-region.org

http://www.pghtech.org/aboutus/

http://www.sustainablepittsburgh.org/

http://www.benedumcenter.org/flash.cfm

true its more then just some flashy websites, but I just wanted to let you know what the region is doing to get the word out, remember there are another 135 or so Metro areas competing for corporate relocation, venture capital, tourism, and business conferences, so its not as simple as just doing a good job a lot of it is which city wins at the end of the day.

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That is very strange but I guess if it livens up the city, why not? This drastic measure is a gamble but I think it will help the city in the end.

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The pic doesnt do it justice, it is a display in a ultraviolet lit room, not the real thing yet. Some of the ideas are a bit over the top but I like the concept, the "point" where the Ohio River forms from the Allegheny and the Mon was called by the French explorers, by George Washington and others as one of the most beautiful spots on earth. The French named the Ohio River in Pittsburgh "Beautiful River" belle riverie (my french is bad). The city needs to really make it nice, it is beautiful but nothing like Chelsea Pier in NYC or the inner harbour in baltimore, MUCH MUCH better then the flats in Cleveland though.

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true true, far too many people are stuck with that image of a post-industrial waste heap. Cleveland's river fire didn't do us any favors either. lol.

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I hope they implement at least some of these ideas. It can only help the city's image, I think.

I especially like the idea of screening street lights. The pretty lights of downtown buildings, as well as the lights on bridges, will look better if there is less other light to detract from them.

By the way, hello everyone. I'm new to this forum :)

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Welcome aboard Gerbil! Glad to see you made the jump. Feel free to posts new topics or explore the other areas of the board as well. As far as this light thing I think 50% of it is overshooting but its good to overshoot since with all the redtape you only end up getting 50% out of it at the end anyways, like most cities Pittsburgh is famous for overbudget and late. Lawrence knew that back in the 50s and 60s the good ole days of the Burgh when a 40 bldg. plan was set for the Hill District to be called the "acropolis" and the hollow between Pitt and Schenley was to have a 5 million square foot- 5 floor research center. Those were the days. I would be glad to see lots of the innovations proposed by this guy take effect or be studied further.

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Ah, yes, the crazy plan to turn Panther Hollow into a huge building! That was definitely an interesting idea. But I think I am glad it didn't happen. We'd have lost Panther Hollow. And now a research building is going up there anyway, beside the Forbes Ave bridge by CMU. It'll be a great thing to have, but we'll still have the hollow, too.

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