Tripoli Street Bake Yard

A handmade cob bake oven and a huge arrow-shaped picnic table for community gatherings will soon transform a vacant lot on the North Side into a culturally vibrant space. As part of Fallow Grounds, a series of public art projects run by Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, artist Michelle Illuminato will be creating the Tripoli Street bake yard. This will be the first community baking oven in Pittsburgh open to the public.

On the corner of Tripoli and Chestnut Streets in East Deutschtown, the bake yard will be a place where people will have access to an outdoor wood-fired and handcrafted cob oven by joining a bake club. There will be open hours, where the hot oven will be available for bake club members to make a pizza or swap ideas and recipes. Flags will be hung to show when the oven is hot and ready for baking. In addition, bake club members will receive training on fire and oven safety from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire.

“I have always been a baker, pushing yeast off on people, and I have always created large-scale art projects where I have invited the public to participate in some way,” says Illuminato. “So I am interested in helping to start this framework, creating something used by the public and which people can continue to grow afterward.”

The project kicked off this past Sunday with a gathering for those interested in participating in any capacity—whether helping to build the oven, using it to bake, or just observing. It’s intended to be a space for everyone. Then oven construction will take place May 27 — 29, with the finish time depending on the number of volunteers.

On the first weekend in June, visit the bake yard for the Tripoli Street Yeast Give Away. Inspired by historical and contemporary community ovens, this will jump-start a summer exchange of wild yeast, workshops and neighborhood get-togethers.

Illuminato intends to gift the oven/table to the community at the end of the project period in October 2016. Meanwhile, Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center will be posting bake yard events on their online event calendar. If you are interested in being involved in the bake club email Michelle Illuminato.

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.