Before we began designing the Carrie Furnace Visitor Center, the studio was posed a challenge:
Using only eight balsa wood dowels of 1/8th inch thickness, build a structure that will support the weight of 2 standard bricks over a 6-inch gap. Testing before the demonstration was not allowed.
For this challenge, I bent the rules by using extra bricks and twine to utilize tension as a means of elevating the bricks. The result was successful... at least until my colleagues demanded that I remove the extra bricks.
The focus of the Carrie Furnace project was to integrate structures into architectural design. Since the brick challenge, i was intrigued by the idea of weight/mass suspended by lightness.
The goal of the Carrie Furnace redevelopment masterplan is to revitalize the community surrounding the Carrie Furnace to play a role in an economic resurgence. Just as the former United States Steel Homestead Works was transformed into The Waterfront (commercial center), the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny county (RAAC) seeks to establish Carrie Furnace as the beacon of growth in the Monongahela River Valley region. Carrie Furnace boasts 250 acres of underutilized land, of which 135 acres are of prime riverfront estate. Its close proximity to the university communities and research centers in Oakland and the existing industries in the mon valley, constitute this site as a commercial incubator with high appeal to future investements. Carrie Furnace acts as the gateway between technology and industry.
this project would also serve as a prototype for new standards for integration of brownfield sites with local communities.
The proposal for the visitor's center, Furnace 8, represents both the future and the past of the site. Projectively, it serves as the beacon to the redevelopment of not only Carrie Furnace but the economical and social prosperity of the surrounding areas. Of a place charged with such historic importance, the visitor's center demands the remembrance its past as the visitors' primary experience. Furnace 8 symbolizes the continuation of Pittsburgh's industrial legacy, by redefining the relevance of the blast furnace to the identity of the Monongahela River valley.
Furnace 8 is a reflection of the last standing remnants of a once magnificent industrial powerhouse. The new furnace, abstract and pristine in form and materiality, anchors the body of Furnace 8 and is positioned in alignment with the two existing furnaces. It is detached from what is existing as a sign of cautious disposition.
One reason for this is to uphold the structural integrity and the fragmented yet iconic identity the existing buildings possess. But the more important reason, perhaps, is that Furnace 8 recognizes itself as an addition to the old. It is a point of objectivity, where the new is distanced from the old, in hopes of recognizing both the commemorative and dismal stories of Carrie Furnace.
The approach to the visitor's center is reminiscent of the scale of the existing furnace house. However, the cross-sectional forms of the roof morph from the vernacular pitched shape to an inverted "V" , symbolizing the progression of time and the changes it has bestowed on the essence of place. The structural extensions beyond the roof reflect the notion of building onwards from the old, an expression of appreciating and enhancing the the original. As for the nave, the circulation is designed to guide the visitors’ impressions of tension and release, while educating them of the events that evoke such senses. The men and women of the Mon. Valley transformed the nation with their steel that created skyscrapers, bridges, highways, and tunnels. Many lived and died on the site.
The new furnace stands as a memorial to these blast furnace workers and the iron-grit culture they developed that now defines the historic identity of Pittsburgh. Furnace 8 highlights the milestones of the past and paves the future for a revived identity of Carrie Furnace.