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Look Up! You Never Know What You Might be Missing!

By Tracy Myers
Co-Director, Education
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

If you have ever taken one of the many walking tours PHLF offers from April through October every year, you know that one of our rallying cries is “Look Up!” Tour leaders encourage participants to lift their eyes from what is immediately within sight to the rich and often surprising detail to be found in Pittsburgh’s historic architecture. We even have T-shirts with the exhortation to “Look Up” on the back, as a reminder to tour participants—and to ourselves, perhaps—that this is the best way to “get” our city’s built environment.

Although I relocated to Pittsburgh more than 20 years ago specifically for its marvelous buildings and topography, it is only since becoming co-director of education at PHLF last August that I have come to appreciate the true wealth of the city’s architecture. And that is because, in the course of becoming familiar with our tours, I really started to… look up. In doing so Downtown, I have been delighted to discover the abundance of architectural detail. Look up, and you’re liable to see a winged grotesque, or an Atlas-like figure holding up the cornice that caps a building, or a lace-like aluminum church steeple, or the ghost of a building that has been torn down. You might see luscious blue terra cotta decoration on a building façade protected by a PHLF easement, or a procession of lion heads holding the line against a corporate cathedral. You could even espy a sculpture of an engineer tucked against a beam of a bridge, hiding in plain sight.

I also have been reminded of the amazing variety of architectural vistas that Downtown’s unusual geography and urban plan offer up. I am constantly surprised that the same group of buildings can give different impressions depending on the street from which they’re viewed. Turn a corner, and you might think, “Wait—is that the same building that I saw just a minute ago?”—a satisfying kind of disorientation that you can experience only by looking up. Expand your field of vision even further, and you cannot help but be taken by the stunning natural backdrop of Mount Washington, the rivers, and the hills.

Downtown Pittsburgh’s architecture is a brilliant microcosm of dominant trends throughout America over the last 200 years. What makes our architectural heritage unique is the fullness and vibrancy of its expression. The photographs in the gallery below, most of which were taken by Sarah Greenwald, my fellow co-director of education, offer just a glimpse of the architectural treasures you might encounter on one of our tours. The education department staff and our corps of 50 docents are busily working on the schedule of tours for 2020. We look forward to sharing Pittsburgh’s architecture with learners of all ages. In the meantime, PHLF members will enjoy reading an article by Charles Rosenblum about touring with PHLF that will be published in our annual 24-page PHLF News, due out by February 2020.


Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633