Planning Commission talks Hillman Library renovations, tree canopy on campus


Screenshot via YouTube

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission at their meeting on Monday afternoon.

By Donata Massimiani, Senior Staff Writer

A new three-story, glass window covered entrance addition to Hillman Library will one day sit on the corner of Forbes Avenue and Schenley Drive. 

Matthew Plecity, an architect working on the project, said the project team aimed to design the addition in a way that’s more “inviting” for pedestrians walking along Forbes or crossing at the intersection of Forbes and Schenley.

“We’re removing a large battered wall and that then becomes given back to the streetscape as these small mini parklets that are envisioned to be very similar to the table and chairs that are over in Schenley Plaza,” Plecity said. 

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission held a meeting over Zoom on Tuesday to discuss the future construction of the entrance addition and site work at Hillman Library. The entrance addition is a part of Hillman’s fourth phase of reinvention, the third phase coming to completion in February 2023. The Planning Commission also discussed increasing the number of trees on campus and construction of a grocery and multi-unit residential building in Shadyside. 

Chuck Alcorn, a Pitt planner, said the proposed addition is the first development in the lower campus district from the 2021 Institutional Master Plan

“This is an important node that connects the Cathedral of Learning, Schenley Plaza, the William Pitt Union and other key University structures,” Alcorn said. “The IMP calls for iconic architecture at this campus threshold.” 

Plecity said the design features honey locust trees lining the sidewalk of Forbes, and added that the project team chose this species of tree because of its upright branch structure and salt tolerance. 

According to Plecity, the entrance addition will have a rooftop terrace that features tables and chairs and provides “really great views” of the Cathedral and Schenley Plaza. He also said Hillman could use this terrace as an event space. 

“The terrace has sky lights in it that offer additional daylight down into the entry volume mass and low levels of lighting for evening use,” Plecity said. 

Plecity said Hillman’s new main entrance will flow directly from the sidewalk into the building, placing the current downwards ramp leading to the ground floor entrance inside. He also said a sign that reads “Hillman Library” will sit above the new entry doors. 

“It really reinforces that this is where you enter, this is where you come into the building,” Plecity said. 

According to Alcorn, the addition will feature a terrace on level one that has outdoor furniture for public use. He said the terrace responds to the IMP directive of creating more high quality open space for the public.

Alcorn said this project also complies with the IMP goals relating to public art. He said the project team collaborated with Pitt’s public art committee to assess Hilman’s “artistic works,” which the team incorporated into the design of the expansion to make the art more accessible to students and “library users.” 

“Certain pieces will be placed within the transparency of new glass extensions and will be visible from the exterior,” Alcorn said. 

According to Alcorn, another goal of the IMP and Pitt Sustainability Plan is to increase the overall tree canopy on campus. Alcorn said this project will result in a net gain of seven trees. He also said the project will have a lower Energy Use Intensity than the campus average — 140 — by more than 40 EUI points. 

Holly Dick, a commission member, asked about the “width of passable sidewalk” on Forbes and Schenley for individuals using canes and wheelchairs because she had earlier heard the presenters mention that the sidewalks would be “fairly narrow.” 

Plecity said the sidewalk will remain the same width along Forbes, but said the sidewalk along Schenley will widen. 

“It grows by an additional 12 feet by removing that battered wall, so it’s probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 feet,” Plecity said. 

Plecity said another renovation includes the widening of windows to provide additional daylight into the library. He said Hillman was originally constructed with narrow windows to protect the books from UV light, which is not as necessary today. 

“Libraries are shifting, as you can imagine, from physical book stacks to being more of a place for students and people,” Plecity said. “There’s a lot more services that actually happen in the library, so there’s not the need for those openings to be so slender.”