David Lewis, the well-known and much-loved architect, urban designer, professor and art critic, is adamant that his latest venture is not a gallery.

Art on 8th in Homestead is “just a place where people can come and look at art,” and meet the artists, Lewis says. He was one of four artists featured at a reception at Art on 8th last Saturday afternoon.

The showroom, as Lewis prefers to call the space, debuted on Nov. 28, and had about 75 people at its opening reception. “We just invited people who were friends of ours, who we knew, and told them to bring what they liked,” he says.

Robert Brandegee, Thaddeus Mosley and Ed Eberle, who were among the artists at the space on opening night were also there on Saturday, says Judy Lewis, David’s wife.

“We’ll have about 560 years of art there if you add up everyone’s age,” she noted before hand. The space won’t have regular hours  but they’re planning weekend receptions throughout the month of December.

Lewis, of course, is not just any artist, he’s a professor emeritus at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture, and founder of the renowned city planning firm Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh 1964. Lewis says the approach UDA took, and still takes, was to get to know the people in a community and include them in the design process. Understanding the spirit of a place, he says, is key to successful architecture.

David Lewis at work in his studio. Photo by Tom Jefferson.

David Lewis at work in his studio. Photo by Tom Jefferson.

“We talked to people, listened to what they valued about their communities,” he says. “We wanted to look at the inheritance of cities, not just tear things down and start over.”

Never a fan of “Architecture with a capital A,” Lewis says he’s OK with the idea that much of the work UDA does isn’t headline-grabbing. “We do things you’ll never see in architecture magazines, because they’re considered old hat,” he says. “But sometimes old hats are rather nice.”

UDA’s influence can be seen all across the city of Pittsburgh, in the Hill District’s Crawford Square, in the reuse of the Waterfront shopping center’s smoke stacks, and the redesign of Station Square from a former train station to a mixed-use retail space.

Asked what his favorite personal project is, Lewis says it’s a sculpture he did that hangs in the Carnegie Library in Hazelwood. It’s 40 feet tall and 18 feet wide, made of steel.

Courtesy Carnegie Library.

Courtesy Carnegie Library.

 His philosophy about architecture is similar to his philosophy about art in general. “Art springs from deep inside oneself,” he says. “The art is just the object, the conveyor of the artist’s voice.”
What he’d like to see happen in Pittsburgh is a continuation of the idea that neighborhoods can evolve and be restored. He’s encouraged by some of the newer ideas for revitalizing the Hill District, as long as the voices of the people who live there are heard, he says.

“Fifty years from now, we don’t want to have a city of buildings that looked impressive, but that are decaying because no one uses them,” he says. “Cities are perpetually being reborn by the things people do.”