Ohringer Arts repositions a former furniture department store as an arts incubator and housing for artists in one of the remaining structures from Braddock, Pennsylvania’s industrial heyday. The project represents the culmination of a vision to bring arts to this town just east of Pittsburgh while providing a unique opportunity for the artists to live where they practice. It provides not only affordable housing but also a platform for artists to showcase their work and be inspired by their creative community. In addition, this revitalized piece of Braddock’s history has become an attraction for citizens and visitors, continuing to advance the town’s rebirth.
“This is a transformative project for the neighborhood and a spectacular demonstration of design and urban planning.” – Jury comment
The original building opened in 1941 as the Ohringer Home Furniture Company. Designed in the International Style, it featured eight stories of showroom space and a curved glass storefront with a revolving display. Braddock fell victim to suburbanization alongside the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the 1970s and the 1980s, leaving the building vacant for decades. In 2009, then-mayor John Fetterman began a campaign to engage youth and attract creative, artistic residents to Braddock. This helped preserve the structure until 2017, when Fetterman attracted the new owner to develop the vacant building into affordable housing for the artists.
Throughout the design portion of the project, the team ensured solid communication through the Design Sketchbook process, assuring the project’s goals would be reflected in the results. One focal point of that effort is the six-story neon blade sign, a beacon at the center of Braddock’s main street that creates an invitation to actively participate in the community’s revitalization efforts.
“The design team showed great respect for the building. It is a cheerful and witty project.” – Jury comment
“This is a transformative project for the neighborhood and a spectacular demonstration of design and urban planning,” said the jury. “The design team showed great respect for the building. It is a cheerful and witty project.”
The project follows numerous efforts to reinhabit vacant buildings through tactical art-based interventions. In this case, the building’s forty-foot width prompted a unique design response converting furniture showrooms into apartment units through a “double-loaded” corridor design. New windows were negotiated through the historic tax credit process to add to the existing windows allowing a tremendous amount of light into each unit. Views from the building’s upper floors and rooftop deck provide spectacular views for miles across the Monongahela River Valley.
The project’s physical and social goals were met through a strong partnership among the developer, the design and construction teams, and the Braddock community. The Ohringer building has taken a prominent place on Braddock’s main street, anchoring a new and inclusive center to the community.
Architect: Rothschild Doyno Collaborative
Owner: Ohringer Arts of Braddock, L.P.
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Category: Excellence in Affordable Housing
Engineer – Structural: Keystone Structural Solutions
Engineer – MEP: Iams Consulting, LLC
Engineer – Civil: Common Ground
General Contractor: SOTA Construction
LIHTC Consultant: Diamond & Associates
Historic Consultant: Heritage Consulting Group
Photography: Ed Massery, except where noted
Etty Padmodipoetro, AIA, Chair, Urban Idea Lab, Boston
Kenneth Luker, AIA, Perkins Will, Durham, N.C.
Marica McKeel, AIA, Studio MM Architect, New York
Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times, San Francisco