The Hill District, Pittsburgh

* New Granada Theater

Spring 2021

The primary focus of this studio has been to first understand the history of The Hill District, both culturally and historically. The neighorhood which has been home to some of Pittsburgh’s most important arts movements has become one of the most disconnected and underserved regions of the city in present day. Much of the culture is tied to intangible works of arts produced in the neighborhood, most notably the Jazz music performed in the many historic clubs and theaters and the Century Cycle plays of August Wilson, who grew up in The Hill. Despite this immense historic significance, the Civic Arena project of 1967, amongst other political decisions including redlining and major disinvestment in the neighborhood has resulted in the destruction of much of the physical evidence of this vibrant past.

These images moving chronologically from left to right showcase the drastic urban changes that the neighborhood has undergone, starting with the pre war hill at its cultural height, moving into the the lower hill  clearance of the 60’s that destroyed much of the urban fabric through eminent domain to make way for the Civic Arena Project. This massive development which displaced 8,000 residents and 400 business was eventually demolished in 2012 and has become the site of large parkings spaces in the present day.

In addition to the disruption of the urban environment through physical demolition, the hill has also undergone severe lack of public funding and redlining or the refusal to finance home loans which has further obstructed the development of the neighborhood in the 21st century.

As can be seen in this redlining map, the area is considered to be hazardous. This classification is the result of the long term economic disinvestment in the neighborhood which has led to both increased poverty and population loss.

The map below looks into the wealth distribution and land value with parcels that are visualized through a color gradient indicating a higher value the darker red they are. Additionally, the black circles visualize median neighborhood income data.

These areas of lower value line up with the lowest scoring "hazardous zones" from the 1937 Home Owners Loan Corporation Redlining Map above and begins to show the root of some of this wealth distribution inequity within the city.

To further understand the history of the hill through its built environment, we've mapped out the sites of some of the most significant cultural buildings in The Hill that housed and facilitated the culture of the neighborhood.

While some of these buildings no longer exist physically, they each played a unique role in forming the history of The Hill District. The sites range from theaters, Jazz clubs, restaurants and churches and showcase the diverse range of cultural and artistic heritage within the neighborhood.

These historic images, many taken by famous photographer Teenie Harris who grew up in The Hill, begin to show how each of the  diverse historic sites that we've mapped out didn't just come together  to create the culture of the neighborhood, but also possessed a rich history of their own. Whether that was the community boarding houses such as the Irene Kaufmann House or the many theaters and Jazz clubs such as the Hurricane Club and Elmore or New Granada Theater, each of these sites was home to many stories and artistic performances that went on to create the history of The Hill both in reality and as the settings for the plays of August Wilson.

The Hill was also the epicenter of Jazz in Pittsburgh and venues ranging from restaurants, to clubs and theaters across the neighborhood hosted many of the greatest musicians of the time. In line with the core idea of the studio, I took the progressive and future facing approach of jazz as a musical style as an inspiration for the architecture of the building’s renovation.

Urban Connectivity Concept

To connect the studio’s two sites, we have come up with 4 universal themes evident in the built environment, the plays of August Wilson, and the daily activities of the local community today.

These themes are :

Spirituality and Religion

Community Gathering Spaces

Recreational Centers

Urban Greenspaces

We then decided to condense these 4 elements into 3 well defined routes through the neighborhood that both guide visitors along significant sites related to each respective theme, but also serve as established trails between both the NGT and AWH.

The New Granada Theater and August Wilson House being the locations of our studio's proposed redevelopment schemes, will serve as the main anchor points from which our networks will expand.

Visitors will be able to learn about our 4 themes within these sites, both by experiencing the programs, viewing the works of August Wilson and actually reading the trail maps, and from there will be able to venture out into the neighborhood well informed and able to explore their areas of interest.

Each route will not only guide visitors past sites relevant to their respective themes but will also have a direct tie to one or more of the August Wilson Plays.

The Spiritual Route will include the site of Aunt Esther’s home the divine matriarch from Gem of the Ocean

The Community Route will include the Kauffman Center, originally known as the Irene Kaufmann settlement house or boarding house which is a community housing and gathering space present in both Joe Turner's Come and Gone and The Piano Lesson

The Green Route will include present day recreational and athletic facilities passing by the Jeron X Grayson center which ties back to Troy’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player from the play Fences.

Renovation Proposal



Starting with the most basic element of the design, the programmatic layout in plan will be organized into three masses. The existing building to the right, the new office extension to the left, and a central core space between the two. This existing structure will be preserved as much as possible with only minor changes while the extension will make use of an insulated translucent plastic sheet facade to allow natural daylighting into the new spaces while maintaining environmental performance. The core space will act as a connection between the two  with a patrons lounge that spills into the program on both sides through box seating and as an internal courtyard above that connects the two adjacent programs through shared seating, natural light, and an outdoor terrace. 

Moving onto the structural logic of the building, once again informed by the 3 elements of the layout, the original structure will continue to use the existing steel beams which will then transition into a clt wood beams structure in the extension to reduce the carbon footprint of the building. This plan shows how the existing grid lines up with the new one only increasing in density to accommodate the needs of wood as a structural material.

Future - Art Deco Marquee and Lower Facade