Koning Eizenberg Architecture’s design of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is inspired by an Chinese proverb that instructs parents to give their children two things – roots and wings. It speaks not only to old and new but also to past and future, to safety and risk; all in the frame of reference of our responsibility to children.
In 2000, the Museum held a national invited competition to expand from its home in the Old Post Office Building into the adjacent long-vacant historic Buhl Planetarium. Koning Eizenberg’s design joins these two landmarks with a three-story steel-and-glass contemporary structure that brings the Museum to 80,000 square feet, four times its original size. Incorporating many sustainable design features, the project became the first LEED-certified children’s museum in the country with a Silver LEED rating.
The Museum opened to the public in November 2004. Koning Eizenberg, as Design Architect, was the prime contractor and subcontracted Perkins Eastman as Architect of Record to provide executive architect services – a successful collaboration.
The Museum welcomes the public through its new front door. An oversized steel-framed verandah, complete with a porch swing, becomes the old symbol of welcome in a new form. Passing under the verandah and through the entry, one immediately steps into a world of activity and possibility. Interactive exhibits – based on the philosophy of “Play with Real Stuff” – are straight ahead and through the old Post Office tunnel to the left. To the right, the verandah transitions into the old entry lobby of the Buhl, a beautiful volume now enhanced by a dramatic new window for much-needed light, visually linking all three buildings and allowing children to establish their spatial connection to the outside world, a critical child development issue in institutional design.
The new connecting building is encased in a shade of fluttering translucent panels, a dynamic wind sculpture designed through a collaboration between Koning Eizenberg and the environmental artist and MacArthur Fellow Ned Kahn. At night, the building becomes an illuminated lantern, symbolic of children’s advocacy and the revitalization of Pittsburgh’s historic North Side. As the Museum director envisaged, building for children is a great way to rebuild neighborhood.