As the region grows for the first time since the steel industry imploded — Allegheny County added 27,230 people, according to the latest U.S. Census —  someone has to create places for us to live, work and enjoy ourselves. That’s where Pittsburgh’s architectural community comes in.

On Sept. 30, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held its annual celebration of architects and architecture, Design Pittsburgh 2021, at Nova Place on the North Side.

“Architecture is the most public of the arts, but we are so used to our buildings that we often don’t really see them,” says Michelle Fanzo, executive director of AIA Pittsburgh. “Design Pittsburgh is a yearly opportunity to really look around and appreciate the remarkable diversity, functionality and beauty in our region’s buildings and to celebrate the importance of good, meaningful design.”

Sustainability is a major theme this year, as climate change continues to wreak havoc throughout the world. The AIA has developed a Framework for Design Excellence that includes 10 sustainability-related elements, including the conservation and improvement of water quality, designing for equitable communities, design that reduces energy use and dependence on fossil fuels, design that uses green and healthy materials, and design for human well-being and structural resilience.

Of course, the most sustainable building is one that already exists. Luckily, adapting abandoned structures is a specialty of Pittsburgh architects.

Among the most impressive projects this year are the redevelopment of the Ohringer Building in Braddock — transforming a long-vacant furniture store into affordable artist residences — by Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. The project won a Social Impact in Design Award as well as an Honor Award in the Medium Projects category.

“This is an area where Pittsburgh architects have a step up nationally, as many of our architecture projects are adaptive reuses of existing structures,” says Fanzo.

This year’s jury included a panel of architects from Minnesota. Here are the winning designs:

People’s Choice Award

Franklin Elementary School, Additions and Alterations, VEBH Architects. Photo by Ed Massery.

North Allegheny School District — Franklin Elementary School, Additions and Alterations, VEBH Architects.

Social Impact in Design Awards

Ohringer Arts. Photo by Ed Massery.

• Ohringer Arts, Braddock. Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. Jury comment: “We all saw the merits of this project. It has conceptual strength with a maximized level of execution to create a project that helps restore the historic neighborhood fabric. It simultaneously reimagines and honors the structure, being both familiar and forward-looking for the community.”

• The Corner, West Oakland (unbuilt). DeNinno Architects. Jury comment: “The precision of the intervention shows how simple design solutions can change the character and impact of a building on a street corner

• The Perennial Project: Breathing New Life into an Impoverished Rust Belt Community, Brownsville (unbuilt). Case Technologies. Jury comment: “This is a wonderful example of dynamic architectural thinking and issue-awareness that the profession can bring to our communities. It addresses future and past simultaneously and acts as a catalyst for collaboration and visioning with the goal of enriching the community.”

Unbuilt Projects: Honor Award

Incremental House, Hempstead, Ficca Architecture. Jury comment: “This submission had a strong research component, and was also beautiful in compositional development – it was a real joy to see as a submission and was clearly a favorite of the jury early on. I think we all gravitated toward this project for its conceptual strength and strong, evocative graphics.”

Sewickley Tavern, Studio St. Germain. Photo by Ed Massery.

Small Projects: Certificate of Merit

Sewickley Tavern, Studio St. Germain. Jury comment: “This project is a great example of responsible design that raises expectations for performance, particularly air quality. It is simple and straightforward, delivering on both esthetics and performance. It maximizes positive impact through thoughtful, integrated design strategies. The use of metrics suggests real potential for learning and advancing sustainability on future projects.”

Edgeworth Club Rotunda, AE Works. Photo by Ed Massery.

Small Projects: Certificate of Merit

Edgeworth Club Rotunda Repairs. AE Works. Jury comment: “This was a beautifully executed restoration. It is a sensitive and thoughtful approach that will endure. They made it look easy, but it is not easy.”

Waldorf School, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Photo courtesy of AIA Pittsburgh.

Small Projects: Honor Award

Waldorf School, Heartwood Annex, Bloomfield. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Jury comment: “The project has some idiosyncrasies, but the form, materiality and program work really well together, and the idiosyncrasies become important to the overall composition and educational environment – it has just the right amount of playfulness.”

Medium Projects: Certificate of Merit

Collaborative Design Studio, Perkins Eastman. Jury comment: “This design feels so bright and airy, but also disciplined in its execution. It presents an ongoing conversation of what the future workplace would be and what that means for our carbon footprint and energy usage.”

525 William Penn Place, Perkins Eastman. Photo by Andrew Rugge.