Honor Award -- Design
Allegheny Riverfront Park
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects,
Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA
Principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects, PC
18 E. 17th Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10003
The Allegheny Riverfront Park brings new life to two long, narrow spaces pinched between the Allegheny River and expressways, signaling transformed relationships among the city, its cultural district, and its river.
The two-level park weaves together a new civic and a new natural landscape. The lower level is willfully wild in its native plantings that can regenerate themselves after floods or ice flows. The upper level offers urbane walkways with plantings and materials traditionally found in Pittsburgh public spaces, while incorporating elements that resonate with the city's industrial past to create the civic landscape.
Access to the lower level was created by two new ramps running down from the Seventh Street Bridge, traversing a 25-foot grade change. Steel frames and chain link create scrims for vines along the roadside and shield the sight and sound of traffic. The client's requirement for a 15-foot-wide lower-level combined path (for walkers, bikers, etc.) made the 35-foot-wide lower level pinched at the Seventh Street Bridge. To widen the park there, we structurally cantilevered a section of the walkway to sweep out over the river and around the base of the bridge. This cantilever also transforms the linear experience of walking through the park by diagonally crossing the bulkhead, so the walkway points people toward and then away from the river. The lower-level park withstands fierce annual floods that can surge as much as twenty feet above the river's mean pool level. The artists' undulating bronze ramp handrails invite visitors to reconnect with the river through a tactile aesthetic.
The upper-level park aspires to a quiet, urbane feeling. Two-stepped monolithic bluestone benches located to the left and right of the Seventh Street Bridge create performance areas and prospects. The new cross section of the upper section tips the site up and orients the experience toward the river and away from the adjacent Fort Duquesne Boulevard. Pedestrian crossings connect to the existing city sidewalks and bridge walkways. Thatched bluestone paving unites the upper-level areas. The more traditional spatial and material decisions of the upper level contrast with the lower level's themes of naturalism, adding experiential range between the two levels. The site where the upper- level park is located was formed by the design team's redesign of the Fort Duquesne Boulevard as part of a PennDOT program-a 50-foot-wide traffic median was relocated as part of the team's streets redesign.
The new park reconnects this Cultural District to the river and eventually will link to the downtown's new convention center to the east, and Point State Park to the west. Our 2001 urban design study of these future park connections as an outgrowth of this project is an entry in this year's ASLA planning awards.
Although Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. planned a park system for this river edge in 1911, it soon became a series of highways; the stranglehold of these highways yielded leftover park sites with a narrow width in comparison with their great length. Moreover, Pittsburgh ~as devastated by floods of 1938, and the resulting 25-foot-tall flood wall that divides the upper and lower sites created another harsh limitation that our design overcame.
State-of-the-art soils were developed as part of our technological details, replacing on-site coal slag with a unique three-layer system that addresses issues of silting waters and drainage, as was flood- resistant detailing. The pavements are inventive: flood-resistant concrete was imprinted with wetland grasses on the lower level, and the upper-level bluestone pavement makes connections to the region. The landscape architect and artist team was prime designer/consultant and worked on the project between 1994 and 200 I; cost was $11 million, upper level road realignment, $10 million.
Client Statement: Our landscape architects and artists for the upper and lower Allegheny Riverfront Parks met several challenging goals. When planning began in 1994, 110 major development had yet taken place along the Allegheny River. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust wanted the landscape architects to redefine the Cultural District's northern boundary, and to reintroduce the city to the Allegheny River while encouraging development. Since the parks' completion, a new convention center, a new hotel, and a creative and performing arts high school have taken root along the park, and two new sports stadiums have risen on the opposite shore. Today, the park represents a Vital component of Pittsburgh's redevelopment.