Sunday, October 13, 2019

Mellon Square

Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece
Susan M. Rademacher
Princeton Architectural Press, November 2014

Paperback | 6 x 9 inches | 144 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1616891336 | $29.95

Publisher Description:
The second volume in our Modern Landscapes series examines the evolution of Pittsburgh's first modern garden plaza. Completed in 1955 from a design by the acclaimed landscape design firm Simonds & Simonds and architects Mitchell & Ritchey, Mellon Square functioned as an urban oasis that provided downtown office workers a much-needed respite from the city's infamous smoke pollution. Now, more than six decades later, Mellon Square is undergoing a major restoration by Patricia O Donnell of Heritage Landscapes that aims to restore this urban garden and help revitalize downtown Pittsburgh. Featuring new photography and archival material, Mellon Square is the only book to showcase the development of this iconic urban landscape.
dDAB Commentary:
In my commentary on Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance a few days ago, I mentioned Mellon Square, the 1955 plaza in Downtown Pittsburgh that's in my 100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs. Integral to my understanding of the project, which consists of a landscape designed by brothers Philip and John O. Simonds atop a parking garage laid out by architecture firm Mitchell & Ritchey, was Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece, part of The Cultural Landscape Foundation's award-winning "Modern Landscapes: Transition and Transformation" series. With TCLF's direction, the book logically mixes history and preservation, although the last is really only given one of its six chapters — 1-1/2 if we count part of the chapter on the plaza's evolution and the renovation that was completed in 1990. The last chapter, The Future of Mellon Square, lays out the challenges of conserving such an innovative landscape/infrastructure project, documents some of the restoration work, and discusses the involvement of the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy, which restores and manages the city's park. Susan M. Rademacher's role as curator at the Conservancy made her an obvious choice for this thorough and enjoyable book. Unfortunately, it looks like only two books were published in the "Modern Landscapes" series (one on Lawrence Halprin's Skyline Park came out in 2012), indicating how difficult it is to publish one of my favorite types of books: book-length case studies.

Good News Update: Per an email from TCLF, the "Modern Landscapes" series will be resuming, with the publication next month of Central Park's Adventure-Style Playgrounds by LSU Press.

Author Bio:
Susan M. Rademacher is parks curator at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
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