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Portal to the Point

Completed as BIM Manager and Intern Architect for Marlon Blackwell Architects

Although the structure of the portal bridge in Point State Park is thoughtfully articulated, it is unable to transcend its context of highway infrastructure. By seamlessly projecting the cross‐section of the portal bridge out into two arms as covered walkways, the original bridge becomes the progenitor for a new formal infrastructure. Within a new singular figure, the original portal under the bridge is dignified and brought into a cohesive whole as a gateway and a destination in Point State Park. A new language of post‐infrastructure gathers the site around the portal which is now a moment of intensity rather than an isolated and unrelated event. Within the original concrete shell, a diaphanous metal lining is placed, perforated to allow light, air and water to pass through with phenomenal effects. As the arms project away from the portal towards downtown, the infrastructure progressively emerges from an embedded landscape as a large organizing green‐roof canopy structure. Edged by shallow reflecting pools, the perforated steel canopies transition and shape two new amenities at their ends, a relocated Fort Pitt Museum and a new below‐ground light rail stop. The space embraced by the new structure is a green amphitheater for social gatherings, concerts, pre‐game events, and small performances. Collectively, a “cultural stadium” is formed, but one for the people of Pittsburgh, elevating public space to the status of sport while retaining and promoting a civic dignity, honoring both
modern ritual and historic past.

A new material logic defines the inner core of the portal, shifting from bone white metal to an iridescent blue interference stainless steel, capable of capturing the effects of the interaction of light and water. The portal is reshaped into more a legible sectional figure as the new curved metal lining is suspended from the existing vault structure by tension rods. At night, lit from within, the arches of the existing structure are revealed as apparitions through the ephemeral metal skin. Fiber optic point lights will provide a range of effects from celestial night sky to colored shadows. During the daylight varying colors of sky and water are reflected in the portal skin imbuing it with an order of change and dissimilarity. The stainless steel lining completes the figure of the portal by extending below the water surface to form the basin of the reflecting pools. Essential to the reconfiguration of the portal is the elimination of vehicular traffic, with access for emergency vehicles routed through the southern edge of the site. The portal and covered walkway paving is built simply of asphalt rolled with high albedo white aggregate material that reflects rather than absorbs heat to reduce heat island effect. An otherwise humble material, the layering expresses the Precambrian geological strata
that enabled Pennsylvania’s mining industry.

Transitioning through the portal from the city‐side of the park one engages a terrain transformed with new constructed features, land forms, and historic elements. In an effort to further clarify and reconfigure the existing highway infrastructure, a new structure, a canopy fountain, is integrated adjacent to the elevated pedestrian way at the highway. The elliptical canopy distributes water from above and redirects water runoff from the highway into the new park wetland areas. Set in juxtaposition to the historic Block House, the fountain activates a plaza constructed in place of the removed Fort Pitt museum. Between the portal and the point fountain, the space of the great lawn is redefined by new grade change that occurs at the marking of the historic Fort Duquesne. Upper terrace grading tilts the upper plain slightly back toward the City. The new belvedere wall gives architectural definition to the landscape while enabling an overlook of the point.

On the city side of Point State Park, the “cultural stadium” features the relocated Fort Pitt Museum and an extension of the “T” beyond the Wood Street station. These amenities create a western edge to the cultural district, which currently features Pittsburgh’s dynamic art and entertainment scene. Despite its name, Point State Park lacks an actual point, so new walkways are created leading out to the point where the Ohio River is created. This new point is lit and visible from Mount Washington, further defining the park’s identity.

Pittsburgh, like many American cities, has significant storm water issues. Point State Park can be a receptor for a new green infrastructure that knits across Commonwealth Place with new green finger parks that connect to existing open space corridors and new green streets. Water from the city is channeled into the park becoming more evident and expressive in the transition from city, to portal, to point. Draining and cascading in an open channel down the grade toward the Portal with additional flow coming from the roof of the new structure, water is experienced variably around the structural arms of the extended portal. This water is then carried through the archway to a series of wetland areas that help to filter it before discharging into the Allegheny River. Water’s productive potential is expressed and natural hydrologic function restored through a diversity of operations that also transform the experience of the park. Fundamental to this strategy is development of a softened edge along the river to manage variable flows while stacking an urban pedestrian and bicycle circulation over the broad inlet. Looking back over millennia of geologic change it became apparent that the Allegheny side of the point has experienced much more dramatic shifts in the location of the channel than the Monongahela which has conversely remained in a fairly constant channel. As a result of this discovery as well as research about historic industrial canal structures in the park, we carved into the bulkhead edge on the north side of the site to receive and flush upland drainage while on the south side of the park proposing new pier structures that facilitate protected small craft access. Redefinition of the edge with varied experience, additional shade, better upland access, will improve not only the experience of the park but also its function as natural environmental filter for the city. The mediated perimeter path stretches to a sharp point at the end which will bracket free flowing river water that is lit at night, mirroring the magic of the portal. This new “point” of Point State Park is a place where the city’s relationship to its strategic riverine relationship can be viscerally experienced, suspended in the floes of time.