Pittsburgh has collaborated with the owners of a Stanwix Street building to transform nine stories of the facade into a virtual who’s who of famous Pittsburghers.
The public art piece dubbed “We Are Pittsburgh” consists of 20 banners with the pixelated images of well known personalities such as Andrew Carnegie, Rachel Carson and Roberto Clemente on two sides of the building at 625 Stanwix St.
It marks the first collaboration between the city’s Public Art & Civic Design Division and the private sector. The building includes ground-floor stores with a parking garage in the middle section and apartments on top stories. JoCo Sky LP owns the apartments and stores. Urban Growth Properties owns the garage. Banners mask the garage decks.
“In the past, it was just kind of a bare parking garage to an extent it was unsightly,” said Jason Cohen, a representative of JoCo Sky LP. “We’re renovating the entire building. Rather than just put some architectural design on it, we thought it was an opportunity to create a sort of canvas to highlight the city.”
Cohen along with city officials and other Downtown stakeholders reviewed proposals from 10 to 15 artists before choosing a design submitted by Joshua Chang of New York and Aaron Ramon of Seattle.
JoCo paid for the installation, but the city owns it, according to Yesica Guerra, public art and civic design manager. Cohen declined to say how much it cost.Guerra said it took more than two years to work through legalities of the public-private partnership.
One side of the building faces the Allegheny River directly across from PNC Park.
“We understood that it was going to get tremendous views from all the different baseball games that are televised or any other sporting event or news story that takes a look at that view,” Cohen said. “We knew it was going to be impactful. The winning design ended up being focused on Pittsburgh’s rich heritage and those that have impacted the Pittsburgh storyline. We felt that was appropriate.”
Chang and Ramon created an optical illusion. When viewed up close the banners appear to be a collage of colorful shapes. Faces come into focus when viewed from a distance or through a camera or phone screen. Historical Pittsburgh maps provide a background for the images.
“There’s a lot of thinking behind this,” Guerra said. “For me this project was about connecting with history but also technology. “No matter where you are with a camera or a phone you’ll see it.”
The artists positioned the figures for effect. Rachel Carson, Andy Warhol, and Roberto Clemente face three bridges over the Allegheny bearing their names and August Wilson looks towards the August Wilson Center on Liberty Avenue.
Guerra said the city has limited funds to create public art and she hopes the project will prompt more private collaboration with the city.
“I hope people really enjoy it,” she said. “I can’t wait to go to a ballgame, really, and see it. It’s going to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people.”