Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Koning Eizenberg Architecture together with PWWG Architects renovated this Romanesque Revival Carnegie Library, now reincarnated as the Museum Lab—a testing ground for teen learning.
The renovation won a 2020 American Architecture Award from The Chicago Athenaeum.
The formally abandoned historic library is now as a building to house spaces for youth (10+) to experiment with art and technology, a charter middle school, and incubator space for non-profits in the education sector.
The Museum Lab was developed by, and located adjacent to, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh who also developed the Children’s Park.
Originally opened in 1890, the library was one of the first free public libraries in the United States.
The building fell into disrepair after lightning struck the library’s clock tower and caused a three-ton piece of granite to crash through the roof, and closed in 2006.
In the adaptive re-use, the architects strip back destructive interior alterations that compromised the original landmark.
Expedient interior alterations from the 1970s were stripped away to reconnect spaces, reintroduce daylight and reveal the bones of the historic architecture.
The resulting “beautiful ruin” has sparked imagination and curiosity as it challenged the conventions for both preservation and educational settings.
Universal access, improved environmental performance, and stabilization of a deteriorating envelope were also addressed.
Windows were replaced and insulation added to roof and exterior walls to improve environmental responsiveness (LEED gold).
Introduction of daylight was a key way of providing expression and reinforcing the reveal. Windows were reinstated and a 2nd floor skylit gathering space was created in a lightwell.
That light suffused space has a wintergarden quality with great value in Pittsburgh’s cold winters. Light filters from the gathering space through structural glass flooring to the Grable Gallery below.
There it illuminates the art installation by FreelandBuck that evokes the Tiffany glass ceiling that was lost many years ago.
Relocation of the elevator and enclosure of the 2nd floor light-well achieved needed accessibility, unified disparate spaces and added a double-height daylit gathering space.
Time and the remodelings wreaked havoc on the interior ornament: column capitals were sliced, steel armatures exposed, and surface plaster crumbled away.
Traditional restoration was not affordable and the emerging archeology of the building clearly offered as an exhibit, in and of itself, a discovery about how things are made.
Manchester Academic Charter School and Museum Lab established a research practice partnership providing the opportunity for an exchange of ideas between the informal world of museum learning and the formal world of classroom education. The Academy uses dedicated space and shares access to the Museum Lab resources, including, the Assembly Hall and Gathering Space.
Architects: Koning Eizenberg Architecture, Inc.
Design Team: Hank Koning, Julie Eisenberg, Ian Svilokos, Nathan Bishop, John Delaney, and Mandi Roberts
Architects of Record: Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel Architects
Client: Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Garble Gallery Ceiling Art Installation: FreelandBuck
Photographers: Eric Staudenmaier