In 1915, Ford’s Model T represented one of the world’s great leaps forward in technological advancement, using the emerging science of assembly-line production to create a vehicle that was affordable to middle-class Americans. A key part of that was the eight-story Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in the Bloomfield/Shadyside area on Baum Boulevard, along what was once known as Pittsburgh’s booming “automobile row.”

Now, that same building, renamed The Assembly, will pioneer Pittsburgh’s newest high-tech developments in cancer biomedical research and commercialization, anchored by the University of Pittsburgh.

Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, built in 1915, in Shadyside/Bloomfield.

The towering structure, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, is being completely redeveloped at a cost of $330 million. A topping-off ceremony was held at the site this afternoon. The auto plant was uniquely self-contained; Ford went from assembly line to showroom for the Model T in the same building. The massive brick structure was designed by renowned architect John Graham.

At 355,000 square feet, it’s one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in Pittsburgh, rivaled only by rare, one-of-a-kind developments like Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green. The original structure is 250,000 square feet, augmented by a 105,000 square foot addition.

The historic Ford building is an important landmark in Pittsburgh, “connecting the city’s era of industrial production and innovation with its future in advancing technology and life sciences,” says John Grady, senior vice president of development with Baltimore-based Wexford Science + Technology, which is developing the building.

“Repurposing this important asset and honoring the local history is an important foundation for future activity here. And the building’s central location, large floors, heavy loading capacity and abundant natural light make for a great platform for modern life sciences research and commercialization.”

Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Shadyside/Bloomfield.

It’s not only expected to become a home for cutting-edge biomedical research, it’s expected to become a major center for jobs of the future.

“More than 1,000 people will work here for the University of Pittsburgh and private employers,” says Grady. “The Assembly will support a range of research and innovation activities in healthcare, life sciences, biomedical research and other uses that will leverage the central location relative to Pitt, CMU and UPMC.”

The building will feature lab, office and event spaces, an interior parking garage, an auditorium with a 250-seat capacity and a cafe operated in collaboration with Pitt. The university is leasing approximately 250,000 square feet in the old section of the building.

“The original character of the historic Ford Motor Company Assembly plant and particularly the dramatic crane shed were carefully preserved,” says Grady.

The Assembly’s crane shed. Rendering courtesy of Wexford Science + Technology.

“The plant was an eight-story main building, which contained the assembly areas and a vehicle showroom. The six-story crane shed was used to hoist parts unloaded from the adjacent Pennsylvania Railroad tracks to the appropriate level for assembly. When the adaptive reuse is complete, the crane shed will be transformed into an iconic center of congregation and activity bringing together Pitt and UPMC researchers, private companies, entrepreneurs, community members and serving as a critical hub for the Pittsburgh life science ecosystem.”

At the moment, more than 100,000 square feet of office and/or lab space is available to lease. The building is scheduled to be finished in the first quarter of 2022. ZGF is the architectural firm working on The Assembly, and Turner Construction is the contractor.

“Once complete, this space will advance the University of Pittsburgh’s mission by fueling biomedical collaboration and innovation for society’s gain,” says Patrick Gallagher, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.