The Children''s Museum of Pittsburgh envisioned creating a new kind of "town square" for children and families. This concept drove the development of the new Museum from the creation of its new physical home, to collaborations with other child-focused organizations, to looking beyond the Museum to create a family district for the City of Pittsburgh.
The Children''s Museum is located in the center of Allegheny Square, the heart of the former Allegheny City in the 1800''s. This area of Pittsburgh is typical of other "rust belt" cities in that is had empty or under-utilized historic buildings, an economically distressed population, and uneven pockets of gentrification and development. When designing its physical expansion, the Children''s Museum of Pittsburgh linked the Museum''s historic home (the National Registered Old Post Office Building, circa 1893) and the vacant Buhl Planetarium Building (circa 1939) next door with a new, three-story construction designed by Koning Eizenberg Architecture. The resulting facility is an astonishing combination of three centuries of architecture that attracted over 250,000 people in 2006 and created a thriving new urban core for the Northside. It''s sensitive design has been recognized by numerous national awards including those from the American Institute of Architecture, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Design Excellence and the Green Building Council''s Silver LEED Award for its environmental sensitivity.
The Children''s Museum did not just build a larger new home. The Museum''s concept of creating a new town square led to the dedication of 25% of its space to be used as incubator space for other child-focused organizations. The Museum is joined by Reading is FUNdamental (literacy), Child Watch (advocacy), Saturday Light Brigade (family educational radio program), Wos Productions (educational television), Pittsburgh Public Schools (two, on-site Head Start/Pre-K classes) and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE). The Museum and its partners share space, resources (ordering supplies, group health care rates, etc.), ideas and programs. The Museum''s award-winning partnership with UPCLOSE has resulted in quality museum exhibits (UPCLOSE studied all prototypes during planning for the new Museum) and important research about family learning that is being disseminated to the field. The collaborations that have resulted from this concept have spurred the family district development within and beyond the Museum.
Leveraging outside collaborations, the Museum worked with the Andy Warhol Museum, the City of Pittsburgh and the Northside Leadership Conference to rehabilitate and re-open the adjacent, historic Carnegie Music Hall (the first one commissioned by Andrew Carnegie) that used to be a thriving theater. The partners raised an additional $2.4 million for the renovation of the 450-seat theater and helped create a new, independent 501(c)(3). The New Hazlett Theater opened in September of 2006 and is now a thriving venue for community arts groups.
The Museum is addressing a key development problem facing many former industrialized, "rust belt" cities (and, many cities in general) - how to attract and keep families in urban centers. This project is unique in that it shows how a cultural institution, through collaboration and vision, can act as a positive development catalyst for an urban neighborhood.
The Children''s Museum has defined the following values as shaping this project and its future focus:
1) Family and Child Centered Development - they are key to the health of the Children''s Museum and to the reinvigoration of the City of Pittsburgh;
2) Collaboration - by working together, we can accomplish more than by working individually;
3) Sustainibility - we must use/re-use existing urban resources (empty historic buildings) and "green" technology for new space construction and ongoing operations;
4) Good Design - quality design impacts the ultimate success of programs, collaborations, the built environment and urban revitalization;
5) Cost Effective;
6) Research - leveraging our collaboration with UPCLOSE provides benefits to both organizations and provides crucial information to the museum field.
By keeping these values at the forefront during its expansion process, the Children''s Museum was able to make appropriate trade-offs that ultimately benefited the project and helped identify new opportunities. When considering the expansion of its physical plant, the Museum looked first to existing resources in its neighborhood - the neighboring, vacant Buhl Planetarium Building. Although incorporating this building into the expansion created many complications (environmental remediation, traffic redirection, etc.), the Museum sees sustainable architecture and adaptive use as morally necessary.
Early on, the central building of the Children''s Museum had to be re-designed to fit the construction budget. The Museum was not willing to cut back on exhibits and programming in the building for the benefit of the envelope. A re-design by KEA advanced the Museum''s values and resulted in an innovative design collaboration between KEA and environmental artist Ned Kahn to create a wind sculpture (Articulated Cloud) that covers the three-story connecting building. This design gives the building a distinctiveness that reflects the activity inside and has become a symbol to the neighborhood.
Collaboration helped the Museum realize the goals of the project in a cost effective manner. To achieve the goal of creating an on-site school, the Museum partnered with the Pittsburgh Public Schools to locate two Head Start/Pre-K classrooms on site. These students use the Museum exhibits everyday, and the school district is integrating the Museum''s hands-on philosophy into a written curriculum for other Head Start/Pre-K programs in the district.
This project has brought new life back to Allegheny Square, the core of the historic Northside of Pittsburgh. The Museum renovated three historic buildings - the Old Post Office, the Buhl Planetarium Building and The new Hazlett Theater building. While the Old Post Office has housed the Museum since 1983, the Buhl Planetarium has been vacant since 1991 and required major renovations to bring it back to life for the community and The New Hazlett Theater closed when the Pittsburgh Public Theater moved to a new theater downtown in 1999. Through Museum programs, partner programs and The New Hazlett Theater offerings, the Museum is bringing nearly 300,000 people into the core of the Northside neighborhood (the former Children''s Museum had attendance of 86,000 the last year of operations before its expansion).
To futher the concept and reach of the family district, the Children''s Museum is also leading a project to collaborate with other Northside cultural organizations to leverage their strengths for further urban redevelopment projects. This "charm bracelet project," funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts helps to find the links between the cultural institutions. To date, over 25 programs have resulted from this effort, bringing more people and activity into the neighborhood. We believe the momentum begun by the Children''s Museum will continue to encompass the entire Northside in a model program for the revitalization of an urban core for families and children.
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