Rooftop basketball court at Kaufmann's Grand, a Downtown landmark that has been repurposed with housing and retail. Photo courtesy of Kaufmann's Grand.

While the Pittsburgh skyline has remained relatively unchanged for the past three decades, some of the building’s interiors — and definitely what takes place inside of them — are entirely unrecognizable.

“You don’t have your print shops or dry cleaners or jewelers or things like that as much anymore,” says Christine Mondor, principal architect at evolveEA. “But what you do see is those buildings repurposed as residential.”

The shift is part of a broader movement of hybridization — the intermingling of business and personal Downtown spaces.

“We want to continue to have greater diversity Downtown, so that means that Downtown has to function both as a place for people who work there and people who live there,” Mondor says. “There needs to be continued thinking about what the public realm needs. What kinds of public spaces do people want? How do we accommodate?”

During the Covid pandemic, many cities — including Pittsburgh — saw declines in daily activity from tourists, employees and residents. 

Three years later, the crowds are coming back.

In July, Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership’s Downtown Activity Dashboard tracked a 97% recovery of monthly visits compared to July 2019 — with the help of Taylor Swift, Picklesburgh and other summer events, no doubt. While August 2023 did not reach quite as high, it still saw an 89% monthly visit recovery compared to 2019.

One of the biggest struggles of hybridization are so-called “monocultures.” A monoculture business district, Mondor explains, limits an employee from leaving their desk to take lunch in an outdoor green space. 

Office buildings themselves can be monocultures, taking up valuable space that could be adapted as apartments, hotels, restaurants or some type of tourist destination. Some of Pittsburgh’s newer office buildings resolve this but many older buildings require reevaluation.

Think about how we can no longer get to the top of the U.S. Steel building, Mondor says.

“There’s no restaurant up there. There’s nothing that is public. Thinking of those buildings as spectacle as well as functional — putting living units, putting hospitality hotels — breaks down the monocultures of those buildings,” Mondor says. “Think about … those buildings in terms of teeming spaces or public spaces where one can get to experience the wonder of being that high above our city.”

NEXTpittsburgh’s Boaz Frankel and historian Mark Houser look toward the North Side from the roof of the Benedum-Trees Building, one of four rooftops Houser will take groups up to during his skyscraper tours on Oct. 7 and 8. Photo by Anne Perri Cole.

Mondor and four other panelists will tackle similar issues of urban revitalization at an Oct. 11 program titled “Remaking Cities: the Future for Downtown Buildings,” an event hosted by the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Institute of Architects for its second annual Pittsburgh Architecture Week.

Architecture Week builds on the foundation laid last year, with at least one event — from neighborhood walks to rooftop tours to networking events — each day. As a whole, the program exhibits the construction of urban environments, explores Pittsburgh’s architectural identity and prompts conversations on best practices for the city’s future.

The festivities kick off on Friday, Oct. 6, with a bus trip and tour of Structural Modular Innovations LLC’s modular home factory in Strattanville, about an hour west of Grove City.

Later that evening, six architecture studios will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. for a studio crawl. Shelton Design/Build, inter*Architecture, Loysen + Kreuthmeier Architects, mossArchitects, Springboard Design and GBBN all sit along the same approximately half-mile stretch of Penn Avenue and will be open for a sneak peek behind their facades, so to speak.

The weekend of Oct. 7 and 8 brings Downtown skyscraper rooftop tours with writer and skyscraper aficionado Mark Houser and neighborhood walking tours in Deutschtown, Wilkinsburg and Squirrel Hill, with an additional tour of Downtown on Oct. 13.

The week’s festivities reach their apex on its penultimate day, Thursday, Oct. 12, with “Design Pittsburgh: An architectural design exhibition,” juried Design Awards competition and public voting opportunity for the People’s Choice Award.

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.