Mar 14, 2008

Nixed visionary idea of the past

At the Carnegie Museum yesterday I came across an architectural drawing by Frank Lloyd Wright and Allen Lape Davison for a proposed twin bridges project for the Point in 1947. It was breathtaking in it's ambitions to re-envision and reinvent the defining feature of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately, it met with what have now become all to familiar results in this city-- unless it involves yet another redundant sports facility or a certain casino project and the looming parking garage that will tower over it.
Twin Bridges Project for Point Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This drawing reflects Frank Lloyd Wright's plan to redesign the Point, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge to form the Ohio in downtown Pittsburgh. At the heart of Wright’s Point Park project was a civic center connected to the North and South sides of the city by bridges across the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. Each bridge had three levels: the lowest for trucks, the next for automobiles, and a garden for pedestrians on top. A tall concrete tower rising from the civic center anchored the "stayed cable" for the cantilevered bridges and served as an antenna for radio and television transmissions.

Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar Kaufmann, Sr., paid Wright $25,000 to rethink the Point. Between 1946 and 1948, numerous drawings flowed from Wright's office to Pittsburgh, many executed by the talented Allen Lape Davison, who had grown up in Pittsburgh, studied at Cornell, and then joined Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Wright's plan was visionary, and the presentation drawings were seductive; but city officials rejected the project. They concluded that the experimental nature of the technology was too costly, the traffic plan too segregated, and the proposal failed to reflect the historical significance of the Point as the site for both French and English outposts in the 1750s.