A rendering by internationally-acclaimed Bjarke Ingles Group, hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins to create an open space plan for the former Civic Arena site.

Last week, the Penguins and lead housing developer for the Former Civic Arena redevelopment site McCormack Baron Salazar hired Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group – also known as BIG – as architects to design 1,100 residences and public space of the 28-acre site.

Known for its worldwide innovative projects – think a figure eight-shaped complex in Copenhagen and honeycomb-shaped apartments in the Bahamas – BIG is on the cutting edge of sustainable thinking, city building and efficient use of resources, says BIG partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann.

It’s a way of thinking that complements the p4 initiative to further transform Pittsburgh to an inclusive, green and economically competitive city. P4 was introduced at a conference here in April hosted jointly by the Mayor’s office and the Heinz Endowments. Bergmann, a proponent of “extreme public participation,” spoke at the international summit.

“We have been involved with dozens and dozens of others firms over the last 40 years. They’ll be working with local firms in Pittsburgh as well, as they get into the design work,” says Richard Baron, co-founder and CEO of McCormack Baron Salazar.

“This announcement is not just about developing. It’s about how adding on to what we have, which is already incredibly special, and building something for the next 50 years,” says Mayor Bill Peduto. “By bringing BIG in, we’re taking that next big step on these 28 acres, and we’re looking at a way of not just building buildings there.”

Currently, BIG has been tasked with rethinking the site’s master plan for public spaces, residential components and transportation issues, working closely with McCormack Baron Salazar and a minority developer yet to be named.

“There are many ways in the master planning effort that we’re about to start that would give you a chance to really think about how the city functions,” Bergmann says.

That includes a stronger physical tie between the downtown core and the Lower Hill District and “reknitting” the grid of streets that was wiped out in the early ’60s with the creation of the Civic Arena. Reintroducing them at different scales of residential, commercial and retail space is also part of redesigning the master plan, he adds.

BIG will also maintain the many different layers of the area’s cultural legacy that starts with the log cabins on the site in the mid-1700s.

“And you have the Lower Hill District that was there in the ’50s and before, a very diverse and very affordable community. There’s a strong sense of place in that community,” he says. “All of that history too can play a pretty important role, in addition to all of the African American culture and immigrant culture that was there.”

Over the next three months, BIG will have a series of public meetings culminating with a presentation of ideas at the end of November, Bergman says. Dates are being finalized with the local community.

“There is no other city in North America that has that much space that is completely adjacent to the downtown core, meaning that people can walk from their home to their job,” Bergmann says. “They can really have an experience that would create a denser and healthier sort of lifestyle for Pittsburgh.”

“Working alongside the community — we will build something that will connect people with place, and create a uniqueness within that place that will become 50 years from now what people identify as the special part of Pittsburgh,” says Mayor Peduto.

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.