You don’t even have to be a student or drive through campus to see how much Carnegie Mellon University is expanding. You can see it from all over Oakland — from Flagstaff Hill to the Forbes Avenue corridor to Fifth Avenue, which isn’t even traditionally considered CMU territory.

Because the university is so crucial to Pittsburgh’s new economy, and the current construction boom is so significant, we talked to Bob Reppe, senior director of planning & design at CMU, to find out what all this means for Pittsburgh.

Forbes and Beeler Apartments at CMU. Photo by Mike Machosky.

The biggest, most obvious development is the replacement of a small, dated student housing complex on Forbes Avenue at Beeler Street. In its place, the massive 114,000 square-foot Forbes and Beeler Apartments is now under construction, which will eventually house 266 undergraduates with all the latest amenities. Goody Clancy of Boston and IKM Inc. of Pittsburgh are the architects.

Slated to open in the fall of 2023, the project will include a fresh food market on the ground floor that will be open to the public as well as students.

“This part of Squirrel Hill, especially going up Beeler and Wilkins is a little bit of a food desert,” says Reppe. “It’s kind of a long ways [to a grocery store]. The closest thing is having the CVS that’s up on Wilkins, but that doesn’t have fresh produce.”

Rendering of the Forbes and Beeler Apartments courtesy of CMU.

The symmetrical Beaux-Arts, yellow-brick main campus at CMU, laid out by famed architect Henry Hornbostel in 1903, has not changed much in the past century or so. But as it has expanded, new buildings of varying architectural styles and quality have been added.

There’s nothing coming in the current development boom that equals the futuristic Gates and Hillman Centers from an architectural perspective. That development was one of nine projects worldwide to receive the 2012 American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Architecture, the profession’s highest award for excellence.

Yet, taken as a whole, the new developments add crucial capacity to the campus and point the way forward for CMU.

Rendering of the new Scaife Hall courtesy of CMU.

As far as what’s happening now — they’ve finally crunched “the potato chip,” as the oddly curved auditorium of Scaife Hall (built in 1962) near Flagstaff Hill was known around campus. It’s been demolished, and a new Scaife Hall is rising in its place, featuring 85,000 square feet of lab/office/classroom space. The site will contain 11 labs for research in different subjects, from biology to robotics. There will be room for 100 doctoral workspaces adjacent to the labs, along with 80 offices for staff in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the College of Engineering. PJ Dick of Pittsburgh is the construction manager and KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia is the architect.

“It will basically triple the size of the lab facilities that we have for the college of mechanical engineering,” says Reppe. “That is moving forward for occupancy for the summer of 2023.”

Another giant student housing project is rising on Fifth Avenue, the Fifth and Clyde Residence Hall. The building will house 264 students with a commons on the ground floor — a new concept for CMU — imagined as “a place for relaxation, rejuvenation and play” that’s arranged around a hearth. The space will feature a relaxation room with a wooden floor, ballet bars and mirrors for those who want to meditate or practice dance, as well as two music rooms — one for individual practice and one for groups or spontaneous jam sessions. LTL Architects, a New York City-based firm, and Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel Architects of Pittsburgh designed the building.

“This is coming from a lot of feedback from our undergraduate population — students are interested in living on campus longer, which we think is a benefit for us and for the neighbors,” explains Reppe. “But [upperclassmen] don’t want to live in dorms, they want to live in suites and apartments, and we were really under-numbered in those.”

The most transformational on-campus development, however, has only just begun. The Highmark Center for Health, Wellness and Athletics (near the back of campus toward Schenley Park) will bring a variety of student services under one, very large roof.

Highmark Center for Health, Wellness and Athletics site in the foreground. Photo by Mike Machosky.

“This is a facility that’s doing kind of two big ideas,” says Reppe. “First, it’s bringing all of the university’s health and wellness components — which are kind of scattered all over campus — under one roof. So you’ll walk in and there’ll be a wellness concierge, the health center where you will get your shots and things like that. Traditional doctors’ offices will be on one floor; the university’s counseling and psychological services will be in the building.”

It’s also giving campus athletics a major increase in capacity, such as two courts for basketball that will enable CMU to host NCAA basketball and volleyball tournaments.

The university is retaining the Skibo Gymnasium (which was built by Hornbostel and has hosted everyone from Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller to Hillary Clinton), and building the 165,000-square-foot Highmark Center adjacent to it. The project was designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, which has offices in Pittsburgh.

TCS Hall. Photo by Mike Machosky.

Since we last checked in on CMU’s developments, TCS Hall has opened across Junction Hollow, putting 90,000 square feet of high-tech space for the School of Computer Science Institute for Software Research and the Center for Business Engagement. The hall also houses the offices of TCS Pace Port, a research hub for Indian multinational tech firm Tata Consultancy Services, which provided $35 million for the building.

ANSYS Hall has opened for the College of Engineering, featuring a maker space, offices and classrooms.

Then there’s the completed David A. Tepper Quadrangle housing the Tepper School of Business along CMU’s front door, Forbes Avenue.

CMU’s 2022 Institutional Master Plan outlines the next 10 years of campus development, which includes significant amounts of new buildings, but also explains the underlying principles that will guide the campus’s direction.

“We dig really deep in the master plan into mobility and how mobility is changing with a full focus on the pedestrian, and focusing on connecting to the city, merging bike networks,” says Reppe. “It also talks a lot about sustainability; Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in green building for 20 years — we’re talking about the next things that we’re going to be doing, like stormwater management and 100% renewable energy.”

Improving the university’s connection to the city is a priority. That includes plans to “nurture” South Craig Street — the main business district closest to campus — into a “great college street.” This will include leveraging CMU’s current holdings on the street and engaging the University of Pittsburgh and the business community to make the street more lively.

“Right now, Craig Street is a little tired around the edges, to be honest, right?” says Reppe. “The decorative sidewalks that were put in 30 years ago are falling apart. There are restaurants, but there’s not a critical mass.”

In the long run, the university’s success is ultimately tied to Pittsburgh so cooperation is key.

“We are really only as successful as Pittsburgh is, and vice versa,” notes Reppe.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.