Even as it serves as a five-story signpost of Lawrenceville’s present and future, step into the new TRYP boutique hotel and you’ll find yourself transported to the past.
Glance over at the bank of original school lockers flanking the ground-floor cafe. You can almost hear them clanking shut as students hurried to classes at Washington Education Center, the technical high school that called this building home for generations.
Look down beneath your feet and discover that the original architectural plans for the brick shop and classrooms have been etched into the new floor, along with demarcations of the original walls and doorways. Welcome to Room 105, forever preserved and now the home of a new restaurant called Brick Shop, designed with input from local chef Kate Romane.
To further honor the history of the space, Pittsburgh artist Dan Gerwin adapted the handwriting of the architect who drafted the school’s original plans, and it now appears as a font etched permanently on the floor just as it was sketched onto blueprints back in the mid-1930s.
Then, look up: Dominating the high ceiling above the hotel’s 40th St. entrance is a dramatic chandelier that fuses today’s digital technology with timeless, hand-blown glass.
It’s the work of Pittsburgh maker and CMU architecture instructor Jakob Marsico. The many globes in this light fixture each gently fade and then brighten in sync with the various ocean waves crashing on a video screen tucked away nearby.
And at the center of this new Lawrenceville hotel, you’ll find wallpaper made from hundreds of 1960s yearbook photos of Washington Education Center graduates, their faces gazing out with a palpable eagerness at a future that is now the past.
Take note: Along with designing the wallpaper with help from the local printshop Printscape, local artist Aaron Henderson also filmed interviews with former students, teachers and administrators, then created a video montage that plays on a loop in the lobby.
It’s already drawing crowds. The hotel’s developer, Josh Aderholt of Century Equities, says that since the hotel opened for guests in late May (though the restaurants open later this week), “it seems like almost every day someone comes in to find themselves on the wall.”
At a time when many hotel chains offer nearly identical interior design at their locations from Kansas City to Kuala Lumpur, it’s a treat to see unique works by three different local artists at a single hotel — especially works that draw on the history of the building and the community.
But the artwork and lighting dominating TRYP’s lobby are just the tip of its creative iceberg.
Upstairs, the guest rooms and hallways contain works from more than three dozen Pittsburgh-based artists and makers, including dramatic art installations located in front of the elevators on each floor. From Bones and All to Temper and Grit to Atiya Jones, Seth LeDonne, Matt Van Asselt, John Belue and many more, an incredible range of Pittsburgh’s brightest artistic lights are represented. (See chart at end of story.)
“There are probably 80 different pieces of art throughout all the rooms,” Aderholt says. “If you could wander through the rooms with a universal key, it’s like you’re in a gallery.”
Even the fitness center is decorated with original artwork.
“Conventionally, you’d have wallpaper in the fitness room,” Aderholt explained on a recent tour of the building. “What we said is: ‘Why pay X thousand dollars for this wallpaper that you order out of a catalog? Let’s just paint the walls and we’ll ask a local artist to make it look special.”
So hotel guests who grab a morning workout will burn calories in the company of two framed paintings by artist Patrick Schmidt.
That approach — using the entire space as a showcase for local artists, especially emerging ones — has been central to the hotel’s development from the earliest days of proposals and planning.
When the Lawrenceville-based architecture firm Desmone Architects interviewed for the job of designing the property, “we decided to suggest that every guest floor be based off different trade materials,” says interior designer Shelby Weber.
The idea was that on one visit guests might stay on “the masonry floor,” and find various art on that level that uses related materials in some creative and striking way. On another visit, they might stay on a floor themed to woodworking or metalwork and discover very different artwork by different people.
All of it would be bold and unexpected. All of it would be made by local artists and makers. And it would be infused into the building’s remodeling from the beginning, not tacked on as a bit of final touch decorating at the end.
With this kind of bold proposal, Weber says, potential clients often “buy in and want a concept” at the beginning, “and they come through, but maybe not all the way.”
But Century Equities, she says, was all-in from the start and never wavered.
Aderholt, a long-time resident of the neighborhood, was already fully committed to restoring rather than demolishing the historic building. And he was drawn to Desmone’s idea of including dozens of emerging local artists, including many who have called the neighborhood home.
The team at Century Equities had been drawn to working with Wyndham Hotel’s TRYP brand because their business model includes decorating each hotel uniquely, with clear nods to the city where the property is located.
Desmone’s creative approach dovetailed perfectly. So Aderholt and Weber were soon collaborating with the small business accelerator Monmade, an initiative of Bridgeway Capital’s Craft Business Accelerator and Casey Droege Cultural Productions to select a wide range of artists and creatives to contribute.
“I was basically the art consultant. We chose all of the artwork that would go on the walls in the rooms and in the public spaces around the hotel,” Droege explains. “We chose a really large group of Pittsburgh-based artists to do all of the work, and it ranged from buying prints and photos that would go in the rooms to also commissioning specific installations for the hotel.”
Droege says it’s not surprising for interior designers to seek out one or two pieces of local art or furnishings for a major project like this.
But “it is not common,” she says, “to do it on this scale.” She says she found it remarkable that Century “chose to really put their weight into pushing local in this way.”
It was also unique to incorporate the works of local artists so early in the process.
Weber says that the teams at Bridgeway and at Casey Droege Cultural Productions gave her access to a wide range of artists and makers that she hadn’t worked with before. Weber and Droege shared a commitment to honoring the building’s history and “had a similar vision of how we could create and blend the interior of the building with the art,” Weber says, “so we were integrating it early on.”
Some artists were suggested by Droege, Monmade or others involved with the project, but many came through a public call for proposals. Droege appreciated Weber’s embrace of including so many creative works: “She took a lot of risks,” Droege says.
It was an ambitious plan, and “it took a little bit of courage to say ‘yes,’” Aderholt says. “We’ve made some choices that were not ‘safe’ choices. But it’s been really gratifying.”
Among the most stunning pieces that came out of the process:
Artist Ed Parish and his team “took molten aluminum down at the Carrie Furnace on a very cold day this winter and they poured it, slowly, over frozen ground or frozen concrete covered in snow. And it made these shapes,” Aderholt explains. “They chose several of them that worked for their vision and they mounted them.”
Parish’s installation is the first thing guests see when they arrive on the sixth floor with its theme of metalworking.
Meanwhile, down on the first floor of guestrooms exploring the theme of printmaking, visitors exit the elevator to find an entire world covered with neatly framed and categorized doodles by artist Henry Simonds.
These absent-minded sketches were done during Simonds’ time as a student, and he has collected them here with a stunning level of annotation. Annotations include the type of notebook he scribbled each image in and even a complex numbering system denoting which subject he was studying while doodling. A nearby display desk flanked by two vintage school chairs expands the installation with a selection of the textbooks Simonds was (or, rather, should have been) studying in class when the doodles were made.
Along with printing what appears to be an old, battered spiral bound notebook dating from Simonds’ time as a student (it’s actually a multimedia collection of images related to the art installation), Aderholt says the plan is to add a larger desk with blank paper and pens where guests can do their own doodling.
Along with these striking installations and others on the floors themed around woodworking and masonry, the guest room levels offer more local art — and more opportunities for Pittsburgh’s artists to gain new fans among the hotel’s visitors.