A Carnegie Museum of Art exhibit honors the work of Pittsburgh-based architect Arthur Lubetz | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Carnegie Museum of Art exhibit honors the work of Pittsburgh-based architect Arthur Lubetz

Lubetz wants landmarks that improve lives

Arthur Lubetz/Front Studios’ Glass Lofts, in Garfield
Arthur Lubetz/Front Studios’ Glass Lofts, in Garfield
Architect Arthur Lubetz is credited or co-credited with many Pittsburgh-area landmarks, including Garfield’s Glass Lofts and the wonderfully renovated Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library. But as I viewed Action, Ideas, Architecture: Arthur Lubetz and Front Studio, an exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art, a single photograph brought Lubetz’s genius into focus. It was a “before” image of 357 N. Craig St., a building I’d known only as Lubetz’s studio, in Oakland. That photo suggested the visionary bent of someone who could look at a squat, rundown two-story brick garage and see a striking postmodern landmark with a remarkably airy interior, filled by day with cats and architects.

This exhibit, curated by Charles Rosenblum, a former employee of Lubetz’s (and an occasional CP contributor), marks Lubetz’s 50th year in the field by spotlighting a dozen projects.

Pittsburgh native Lubetz, who studied at Carnegie Tech, is known for dramatic statements involving bright colors and transecting geometric forms: Think “red slab cutting through a building,” or a structure that suggests two different types of building slammed together to make something new. But the exhibit emphasizes that Lubetz’s work isn’t just showmanship. As Lubetz says in one video, he wants people to notice architecture. But he also wants landmarks that improve lives. For instance, at The Elms, a senior high-rise built in 1975, angled balconies visually connect the apartments to social spaces like an outdoor plaza, to reduce isolation. 1994’s Foundry Place, in Brighton Heights, with its striking “incomplete” brick façade, demonstrates that public housing merits more than utilitarian architecture. And the recent repurposing of a former restaurant as the Sharpsburg Community Library adds notable vibrancy to that Allegheny River town.

Moreover, as Lubetz contends, making people notice architecture is good — a way to get us to consider and appreciate our built environment, rather than simply enduring it. Fanciful but functional examples like Squirrel Hill’s Dalzell House and Oakland’s Top Notch Art Supply (with its giant pencil) make that point, as does documentation for unbuilt visionary projects like a “floating” banquet room on a proposed hotel near The Andy Warhol Museum.

I would have liked more information on Lubetz’s own influences. But as is, the exhibit ably demonstrates his assertion that architecture is best when treated as an art.

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