$4M floor project at Pittsburgh International Airport to replace drab gray, clickety-clack tile

| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 10:42 p.m.

The clickety-clack of Pittsburgh International Airport's floor will be left in the dust, at least on the airside terminal, as part of a $4 million public art floor project, officials announced on Wednesday.

The Airport Authority commissioned Carnegie Mellon University art professor Clayton Merrell to design a terrazzo floor with murals to replace the old, small grayish tiles that officials said are cracking. Many airport travelers know the existing tiles best for the clickety-clack, railroad-like sound their suitcase rollers make as they pass over them.

Merrell's solution is “The Sky Beneath Our Feet,” a floor that will feature murals of five iconic Pittsburgh images — Downtown, South Side, Oakland, North Shore and the Carrie Furnace site sharing a blue sky. The renovation will replace the tile in the airside terminal in the center core, food court and leading into the four concourses.

“The airport obviously is one of the most public faces of the city as a welcoming and beautiful place,” Merrell said. “The current floor has been an aggravation for some time with the clickety-clack, and it's drab. It's a good time to make a change.”

Airport Authority Acting Executive Director Jim Gill said the current floor requires high maintenance.

“As we talked about replacing the floor, the board wanted the floor to be a piece of art itself,” Gill said. “This is very sustainable and will ultimately reduce resources.”

He said construction, which is under way, will be completed in the next 14 to 18 months.

The airport has come a long way in promoting art in the past few years, said Renee Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art, a public-private partnership between the city of Pittsburgh and Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

In 2011, the airport authority sparked controversy when they removed the 78-foot-long aluminum sculpture “Silver Grid Wall” near the center core above the escalators in favor of a banner advertisement.

“Am I happy the airport replaced that with an ad? No,” said Piechocki, who supports the new floor. “But that controversy caused the airport to develop better public art (policies). Now there's an airport art committee, a bi-annual art plan, a gift policy and a de-accessing policy. I think they went from a C to an A. I won't say A-plus yet, but they're taking it seriously.”

Critics of airport spending said $4 million for a floor isn't worth it.

“This is not a museum. People don't go to hang out at the airport. If they are, it's because they're being delayed,” said Satish Jindel, a transportation and logistics consultant based in Franklin Park.

“The airport authority keeps losing sight of what business they're in,” said Jindel. “No one cares about the floor. Put the money in the bank.”

Others say airports do need to keep an appealing facility to entice airlines and passengers.

“You need to impress people and you need to impress airlines,” said Bijan Vasigh, economics professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. “The appearance of the airport has an impact on passengers. Of course they're dependent on flights, but airports are competing. You want to have a good appearance where passengers can enjoy the shops and the climate.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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