Fresh ideas about design
An isosceles triangle in plan, the monumental Schenley High School opened in 1916 at the edge of the Oakland neighborhood. The school functioned for nearly a century until closed down by the public school system. Since 2012, Strada has been working with PMC Property Group to re-envision the historic school’s rooms as apartments and amenity spaces, at the same time tackling the many logistical issues that are part of this adaptive reuse project.
Coincidentally, one of the architectural designers working on the project is Strada’s I-Shan Tam, a graduate of Schenley High School. Recently she spoke about how it feels to play a role in transforming her former high school.
Did you ever think when you were a student at Schenley High School that one day you would become an architect and design spaces that have such an impact on people’s lives?
IT: No, I never thought I would become an architect when I was in high school. I only knew that I wanted to go to college, but never knew I would graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture.
Does the fact that you attended school at Schenley give you any special insight to the design or the challenges of the building?
IT: I won’t say that I have any special insight because I went to Schenley High School. It’s actually quite scary to find out how much I don’t know about the building, and how much I forgot what the building was like. While we were putting together the construction documents, Sean (the Project Manager) made fun of how little I remember about my own high school building. I am glad that I got the chance to see the original architectural drawings from the past and get a new perspective on it through the world of architecture.
Are there prominent features of the building, or elements of its history as a school, that will be retained in the new design?
IT: Some of the major historical features that we are retaining are the corridors from first floor to the third floor, the auditorium, and the main lobby. The exterior will remain mostly the same.
Schenley lived a long life as a prominent city school. Now it will have a brand new chapter as a place to live. Have you thought about how buildings often outlast those who design them?
IT: I am a little bit sad that Schenley High School became one of the Pittsburgh histories and will no longer function as a school, but at least the building is not being demolished like some other Pittsburgh Public School buildings. The new residents might not know the history behind the building, but the memories of Schenley High School will remain with those who used to teach and study there.
When we visited Schenley last summer, I found a mural I worked on with a group of ESL students, the ESL teacher, and one of the art teachers. It was a nice memory flash back for me.
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Anh pursued what he called a more conceptual exploration. He duplicated and scaled the facade to achieve the layered quality, and he applied a transparent material to the building exterior. For the environment, Anh opted to pay homage to Len Lye; the lights behind the structure derive from one of Lye’s works called Wind Wand.
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