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FYIStructure: Defying gravity

  1. Bridges
  2. How buildings stand up
  3. Earlier structural methods<


Bridges and Buildings

FYI Structure<

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Earlier structural methods

But Downtown is not all skyscrapers! Looking between the tall 20th century buildings you'll catch a glimpse of earlier times when buildings were a little more human in scale and weight-bearing walls served as both skeleton and skin. These small gems tucked among the skyscrapers document the past as surely as precious archives or smaller artifacts.

Most residents know that the Bouquet's Redoubt, commonly called the Fort Pitt Block House, standing in Point State Park, is Pittsburgh's oldest structure. Because it is constructed of brick masonry, it outlasted by centuries the last remnants of the log village that played a major role in a titanic 18th century struggle between the French, British, and Native Americans. Those armies fought for control of the middle of the continent, and the past names of the fort reveal the struggle: In 1754 it was Fort Prince George, in 1755 Fort Duquesne, in 1758 Fort Pitt. Today it stands as a museum chronicling the role of "Pittsborough" in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. (See also, Western PA History.)

Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation

Bouquet's Redoubt--the Fort Pitt Blockhouse--is the only remaining 18th century structure Downtown. The log construction of its contemporaries was quick and thrifty, but did not withstand the elements very well.

While most of us know the Blockhouse is the city's oldest structure, how many people can name the city's second oldest structure? It's the Burke Building, another small structure, that sits on Fourth Avenue right next door to the impressive glass castle known as PPG Plaza. When it began life in 1830 as a bank, its sandstone post-and-lintel construction and Greek Revival style must have stood out among the more common wood and brick buildings of the day. Its stone walls were among the few that survived the fire of 1845 and it has miraculously survived the wrecking ball of several Downtown building booms.

Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation

The Burke's Building, Downtown's second oldest structure, is dwarfed by today's buildings, but when it was built as a bank in 1830, it's sandstone masonry commanded respect.

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Just off Smithfield on Strawberry Way is a set of tiny buildings that were houses in the 1850s, when living and working Downtown was common. The Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club around the corner also dates from this era when Pittsburgh was a brick city of three and five story buildings.

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Another historic landmark and architectural showpiece is the Allegheny County Courthouse, located on Grant Street. It was built in 1886 and is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of work by America's master architect of the 19th century, Henry Hobson Richardson. Its Romanesque stone arches solve the problem of making holes in the walls to let in light without weakening its weight-bearing granite walls – accomplishing the architectual necessities of structure, function and beauty in one act.

Architectural historians have called H. H. Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse masterpiece "a symphony of arches.".

Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
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