Pittsburgh’s Union Trust Building Renovation Highlights Architectural Riches and Modern Gems

Peeling Back Layers

Ornamental features on the mansard roof are repaired and restored, including replacement of some terra-cotta roof tiles.
Ornamental features on the mansard roof are repaired and restored, including replacement of some terra-cotta roof tiles.

The team had to address the building’s severe deterioration to support the required structural, electrical and mechanical infrastructure improvements.

The building’s exterior is constructed of limestone that had rust staining over the majority of the exterior surface because of its high iron content. The mansard roof was water-damaged and leaking badly. The Union Trust Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the project was seeking state historic tax credits. This opened up a process of review at state and federal levels when it came to exterior repairs and new storefront windows for the restaurants. “This building is completely unique, and our exterior restoration processes and cleaning methodologies faced a lot of scrutiny from reviewers,” Cameron says.

Ultimately, the iron streaks were cleaned, and the team repointed and sealed the stone. Ornamental features on the mansard roof were extensively repaired and restored, including replacement of some terra cotta roof tiles using the discovered molds. The team also added new roofing and flashing and fully restored the bronze street entries.

Inside, a 1950s remodel had replaced glass components at the interior office entrances with marble panels that had wood and plaster surfaces above, which cut off tenant space views to and from the rotunda. Elkus Manfredi Architects replaced the 1950 panels with floor-to-ceiling linear and curved glass panels at each office front and added new LED lighting. These upgrades reestablish visual connections between the rotunda and tenant spaces and add more light to the 11-story atrium.

The team cleaned the building’s original Alabama marble and Tennessee marble floors, as well as the terra-cotta walls and floors. Bronze elevator doors on the ground floor were restored to their original glory, and 12 elevators were modernized. The renovation replaced all the building’s windows. The design also added a 190-car garage in the basement and a cooling tower on the roof.

At the center of the rotunda, the carpet pattern is inspired by the pattern on the Tiffany dome directly above.
At the center of the rotunda, the carpet pattern is inspired by the pattern on the Ruby Brothers dome directly above. Photo by Andrew Bordwin.

Custom Cut

Previously, the adjacent BNY Mellon Center had provided the building’s chilled water for heating and cooling. The new cooling tower gave the building independent operations but incorporating HVAC vents into the arcade/atrium became an obstacle. “We came up with the concept to recreate molding details in metal to accommodate the vents,” Nguyen says. “It’s clear that these details are new in the building but they align with the original architecture.”

The lush carpet also required innovation. If it had been inset, it would have involved scoring the marble floors to accept adhesive, which was not in line with historic guidelines. The thick, wool carpet lays on top of the marble, but because it is in a high-traffic zone, it had to meet ADA compliance. “We shaved the edges of the carpet to slope down so wheelchairs can roll onto it easily and it is sculpted along the promenades to create a small porch area in front of each retail space,” Nguyen explains. “It provides beauty and function for the 21st century.”

Now, the award-winning Union Trust Building gleams with new retail tenants; four restaurants; and flexible, Class A office space surrounded by local art.

“The building is part of Pittsburgh’s larger downtown renaissance story,” Lowrey says. “And we programmed the space to serve today’s tenants; invite the neighborhood in; and connect people with ideas, culture and each other.”

Retrofit Team

ARCHITECT: Elkus Manfredi Architects, Boston

  • SAM NOROD, AIA, LEED AP, principal
  • ELIZABETH LOWREY, IIDA, RDI, principal, director of Interior Architecture
  • ROSS CAMERON, RIBA, RIAS, vice president, project manager
  • ROSS CROMERTY, LEED AP, architectural designer
  • BRYAN PREMONT, architect
  • CHI-THIEN NGUYEN, designer
  • MARGARET BROWN, designer
  • MOEKO HARA, designer

EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT: Perfido Weiskopf Wagstaff + Goettel, Pittsburgh
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Mascaro Construction Co. L.P., Pittsburgh
EXTERIOR RESTORATION ARCHITECT: Wessling Architects, Quincy, Mass.
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Atlantic Engineering Services, Pittsburgh
MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL/PLUMBING ENGINEER: AHA Consulting Engineers, Lexington, Mass.
ELEVATOR CONSULTANT: VanDeusen & Associates, Voorhees, N.J.
PRESERVATION CONSULTANT: Heritage Consulting Group, Philadelphia
HISTORIC PRESERVATION SERVICES: Powers & Co., Philadelphia
ART CONSULTANT: Boston Art, Boston

Materials

LOBBY CARPET: Royal Thai
CARPET TILE: Shaw Contract
TILE: Daltile
STONE: Stone Source
SOLID SURFACE: Caesarstone
PLUMBING FIXTURES: Brizo and Kohler
FURNITURE: Bernhardt Design, Cumberland, Debra Folz, Hightower and Muuto
WALLCOVERINGS: Carnegie Fabrics and D.L. Couch
CASE ROOM TIERED SEATING DESKS: Navetta
PAINT: Benjamin Moore
LAMINATE: Chemetal and Abet Laminati
LVT FLOORING: Mohawk Group
RUBBER FLOORING: Johnsonite

Photos: Robert Benson unless otherwise noted

About the Author

KJ Fields
KJ Fields writes about design, sustainability and health from Portland, Ore.

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