Arsenal 201 is not the first development slated to transform a former industrial site in Pittsburgh. It won’t be the first exciting new place to live in Lawrenceville, and it’s not the first mixed-use project to offer a staggering list of amenities and communal spaces. So how will it capture our attention? Rob Dower, the Project Architect and an Associate at Strada, answered a few questions about what’s happening on the property that was home to Scott Electric just a few months ago.
What were the early aims for the site, before the master plan took shape?
RD: In the initial discussions with Milhaus, the developer of the project, our shared vision was that this development should be not just in the community, but of the community. That became the central theme in our discussions with stakeholders, neighbors, and city leaders. It was the basis for major decisions about our design, and I look forward to seeing some of the results as construction gets underway.
What were the primary concerns of the neighborhood when the team made public presentations of the Arsenal 201 Master Plan?
RD: Knowing that neighborhood residents would be proactive and inquisitive about such a large new development, we conducted an extensive public process that was instrumental in advancing the design. The scale of the site is daunting. At nearly 13 acres, it is about the area of four typical Lawrenceville blocks, and the highly visible location near the 40th Street Bridge added to everyone’s interest. One of the first questions raised by the neighborhood, and shared by us, was how to break down the scale of the development and remain contextual in terms of building heights, street spacing, and facade variety.
Parking and traffic was another broad concern, and in response we have taken efforts to avoid any additional pressure on the neighborhood for parking. All of our parking will occur on-site, much of it within the buildings’ footprints. Additional traffic mitigation measures will be included in future phases. Lastly, the community brought concerns about affordable housing in the neighborhood, a discussion that really goes above us and is currently resonating at the highest levels of city government. We hope that Pittsburgh’s policies will foster sufficient housing options across every income bracket.
You recently led the design team for the Bakery Living apartments at Bakery Square 2.0. Will this project similarly offer new public amenities or benefits in addition to those reserved for residents?
RD: Our Master Plan includes a one-acre public park at the lower end of the site, which will connect with the Riverfront Trail (proposed in a separate initiative outside the boundaries of our master plan). Arsenal 201 will strengthen the neighborhood’s retail corridor, and add a public pedestrian way dubbed ‘Arsenal Alley’ that will connect Butler Street to the future park. Bike parking will be installed at multiple locations, and a new bus shelter will be added. The design creates new street parking on Butler Street without any loss of traffic lanes, and the streets within the development are being designed as complete streets, integrating all modes of transport, stormwater bio-retention, resilient landscaping, and lighting. We think the added infrastructure will be a bonus for everyone in this part of Lawrenceville.
What are some aspects of the site’s history that will be part of Arsenal 201?
RD: Every location has a story, but this one is especially unique. The site is on a portion of the former Allegheny Arsenal, a military arsenal that functioned for nearly a century and was one of the largest serving the Union Army during the Civil War. We are carrying this history into the story and branding of this place, and incorporating a number of historical elements into the place.
As an arsenal, the site included a stone perimeter wall, and we are preserving all of its remnants. The only remaining building from the arsenal is the Officers’ Quarters, a stately red brick house near 39th & Foster Streets, which we are adapting in a future phase. The site transitioned into private use around World War I, when the present-day warehouses were constructed. From this era, we are salvaging railroad ties, steel columns, metal trusses, wood beams, and wood roof planks, for incorporation into architectural, site, and interior applications. Finally, crushed red brick from building demolition will become a paving surface in ‘Arsenal Alley.’
The retail element of Arsenal 201 will be an important part of the neighborhood connection. How do you envision the retail development along this block of Butler Street?
RD: It was clear from the start that our site was lacking the energy and sidewalk vibrance that is a hallmark of Lawrenceville. The absence of retail frontage and the unsympathetic expanses of parking around the 40th Street Bridge area was creating a “missing tooth” between Upper and Central Lawrenceville. This development is an opportunity to bridge that gap. We have designated almost our entire ground floor on Butler Street for retail space, with the exception of a compact apartment lobby. The owner is committed to seeking local, one-of-a-kind retailers, and we aim to fill the spaces with numerous small tenants, as opposed to only a few large tenants. Furthermore, the architectural design of the Butler Street facades allows for multiple variations in the retailers’ storefront designs, and should result in an eclectic mix.
Site demolition has been going on for two months now and the site is well on its way to being cleared. Phase One will bring 243 apartments, 19000 SF of retail, and public green space to a central crossroads of Lawrenceville, founding a new place that is both rooted in dialogue with present-day neighbors and reverent to the site’s history and former occupants.