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Westmoreland County Students Propose New Uses for Historic Vacant Building in Monessen, PA

by PHLF Intern William Prince
April 1, 2010

On March 22 & 23, 2010, PHLF and the Greater Monessen Historical Society hosted the 14th Annual Architectural Design Challenge for schools in Westmoreland County. Over 100 middle school and 40 high school students participated, from Belle Vernon, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Laurel Valley, Ligonier Valley, Monessen, Penn Trafford, Valley, and Yough school districts.

The students began this project in October 2009 by visiting the design site in Monessen, PA. They were assigned the task of (1) building a model showing a new use for the vacant and historic Monessen Savings & Trust Building of 1904-06 and (2) drawing a streetscape showing design improvements for the 500 Block of Donner Avenue. Through this experience, they learned about the history, architecture, and unique character of Monessen, PA.

Twenty-six teams presented their work on March 22 and 23, 2010 to a jury of architects, urban planners, and interior designers. The event was held at Monessen Senior High School and awards were presented. Students described their concepts during a 6-minute oral presentation and then entertained questions and comments from the judges.

Models showed the former Monessen Savings & Trust Building repurposed as a place of activity and entertainment housing a variety of new uses: a community center, sports emporium, day-care and tutoring center, candy store and yoga center, restaurant/hotel/coffee shop, family fun center, arts and music center, roller rink, physical therapy and exercise studio, and under-21 dance club, among other ideas. Many teams included “green-building” concepts such as roof top gardens, “living” walls, solar panels, Energy-star appliances––but the greenest feature of most models was reusing the existing building.

The judges were impressed with the students’ concepts and with the models they built to scale. Walls were constructed out of foam core, wood, or cardboard, and furniture and architectural details were crafted out of many materials, including clay. One team even created a pond filled with real fish in the vacant lot adjacent to the Monessen Savings & Trust Building.

The students learned a lot about teamwork and time management––and they gained an appreciation for the architecture and the history of main street communities. “Before this project I found the former Savings & Trust Building to be an eyesore,” said one student. “Now, I look at it as a structure that only needs to be renovated” and brought back to life for the city of Monessen.

The following photos show the project site in Monessen and some of the projects presented on March 22 & 23, 2010.

Tribune Review Article
Architectural Design Challenge Process

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