Open for Business Again at Pittsburgh's Market Square Place

Posted on: December 12th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 9 Comments

Several years ago, Market Square Place was just a series of historic buildings on three different streets with different styles and heights, all suffering from decades of neglect. Some saw this as a case for demolition, but the City of Pittsburgh saw an opportunity to promote green urban living.

A public-private partnership brought the historic buildings together into a single mixed-use complex that now boasts residences, retail storefronts, and a YMCA, all with facades that have been restored to their original 1930s appearance. This successful reinvention as a fresh, eco-friendly community earned Market Square Place an Honor Award at the 2012 Richard H. Driehaus National Preservation Awards -- and the approval of the surrounding neighborhood.

We caught up with John Martine, founding principal/lead design partner at Strada (you may remember them from the Bakery Square project), about the complexities behind Market Square Place and what it took to make this adaptive reuse succeed.

What’s unique about the Market Square concept?

Strada successfully combined seven distinct buildings of different eras, construction types, and architectural styles into a mixed-use complex in the very heart of Pittsburgh's historic center. To date, it’s the largest historic preservation/adaptive reuse project in downtown Pittsburgh.

What was the value in looking at a whole area, rather than just a single building?

The value of working with several buildings in an area lay in “economies of scale.” For example, some of the smaller buildings individually would not have been able to support the necessary infrastructure to meet existing building code requirements. However, by working with all seven structures, we were able to integrate required stairs, elevators, common areas, and a single shared apartment entrance for all buildings. This also gave us more flexibility in planning the various tenant spaces.

Historic Market Square Place. Credit: Archives Service Center at the University of Pittsburgh

What were the challenges you faced in preserving several buildings at once, with a wide range of tenant needs, different designs, and a heap of history to boot? How did you overcome any of these challenges?

The challenges were numerous, beginning with the need to resolve building code and zoning issues. As previously noted, the buildings were of different construction types, and had different floor-to-floor elevations as well as wide variations in each building's footprint. Arranging the various tenant spaces was akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle.

It was easy to resolve variations in some apartment units, while others were a bit more complicated. The ground floor retail space was -- with the exception of the YMCA area -- a blank slate ready for a variety of retail uses.

We gave some consideration, of course, to anticipated uses such as restaurants. In addition, we had to reconfigure the basement as a parking garage for the apartment tenants.

Strada faced another challenge with the differing architectural styles of the buildings. Almost all of the building facades required considerable detective work on our part to establish their original identity and characteristics.

With styles ranging from an early cast iron-fronted building from 1880 to Art Deco facades from the 1930's, we made the decision early in the process to treat each structure individually. This included preparing new ground floor facades that respected each building's distinct character.

How has this transformation impacted the community? What will its rebirth mean for the neighborhood and the city?

Market Square Place was the largest adaptive reuse project on Market Square. It was joined by several smaller but similar projects. Together, the combination of all these projects greatly enhanced the total impact of this development not only on the Square but the entire downtown area of Pittsburgh.

Over the past several years, there has been a steady growth in available residential units in the downtown core. Recently, the pace of residential development has increased greatly. The retail spaces were attractive to a number of tenants and the developer wanted to make sure that the mix of tenants was appropriate for the site.

What makes you particularly proud of the Market Square project?

We’re certainly proud of the fact that several derelict and underutilized buildings, once slated for demolition, have been repurposed for continued use well into the future. The transformation of these buildings is the culmination of more than a decade of planning for the revitalization of the Fifth/Forbes Avenues commercial district. The project was awarded LEED Gold certification for both the core and the shell of the building.

We’re also proud that the project has been recognized with several regional and national awards. In fact, Market Square Place just received a Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation this October.

What’s the next chapter in Market Square’s story? Has it inspired other preservation or development stories nearby?

Market Square Place has been a catalyst that spurred continued investment in rehabilitating some of the other existing structures on the Square, and there is a proposed high-rise office and hotel complex immediately adjacent to the site. As more of these projects come to completion, the revitalization of downtown Pittsburgh will grow.

Nominations for the 2013 Richard H. Driehaus National Preservation Awards open December 17, 2012. Learn more at

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the director of digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Adaptive Reuse, Architecture, Interviews, Revitalization

9 Responses

  1. Lara Serbin

    December 12, 2012

    This is a wonderful well put together post. You have the before and after shots. A great project! I like the mixed zoning of residential and commercial. Support of local team players is all it takes.

  2. Elyse DeWyngaert

    December 12, 2012

    This is so exciting! I grew up in Pittsburgh,and the places that have been saved were part of my childhood. It would have been a tragedy if these places were lost to the wrecking ball and box stores. Residential/commercial enterprise is a winning combination in the revitalization of any area. The repurposing of a building,while keeping it’s unique exterior design showcases the materials and designs for each period. Pittsburgh has been a city renewed by a pattern of Renaissance,blending the historic past while reaching into the future. Great job!

  3. Leah Patgorski

    December 13, 2012

    Great to see this piece about the project! You can see more historic photos here on the Steeltown Anthem blog:

  4. Making the Old New Again in Market Square Place « preservationponderings

    December 14, 2012

    […] John Martine from the firm Strada, who designed this project, on the National Trust site recently (…). The article also includes a video with some great statistics and visuals, so I highly suggest you […]

  5. K. Ford

    December 16, 2012

    I grew up in Pittsburgh, North Side. I worked in a bakery on the square, I think its name was Jenny Lee Bakery, would have been in the 1950 era. There was also a dairy there where my mother would take us for extra thick milk shakes. I visited a refurbished hotel, modernized, but importantly, showcases the early American artifacts recovered from the ground under the foundation of the original building. I also worked, after school, at the G.C. Murphy 5&10 cent store. Marriage required a change of location.
    Thanks for the memories.


  6. Favorite Design and Urbanism Blog Posts for Week of December 8, 2012 | Walter Comms

    December 16, 2012

    […] managing editor for the National Trust, blogs about a public-private partnership that brought the historic buildings of Pittsburgh’s Market Square Place together into a single mixed-use complex that now boasts residences, retail storefronts, and a […]

  7. Sandy Walters

    December 20, 2012

    I am more proud than ever of my hometown, Pittsburgh. Other cities should eat their hearts out.

  8. pat hart

    December 22, 2012

    This was great to see the revitalization. I also grew up on the North Side and walked home from shopping and windowshopping from those exact sites with my mom. Also busing to Oakland college brought my travels through town to see. Great to see how they are now. Marriage was my reason to leave. p

  9. Save The London Fruit and Wool Exchange (1929)

    December 27, 2012

    This is inspirational for us over in England at London’s Spitalfields Market, where we are fighting the demolition of three 1920’s buildings – including the landmark London Fruit and Wool Exchange. Not only a superb building with historical connections to the Market, but one that is very important to the East End and to London, as it was the home of ‘Mickey’s Shelter’ in WW2. Strada have done an incredible job at Pittsburgh and proven that market areas and their historic buildings must go on in large cities. As they say, it is also revitalising the whole area.
    If only here at London’s Spitalfields Market, we had people involved who were not determined on destruction. They are also building over an 18th C. street. Spitalfields Market is popular with tourists, including ones from the US, so we know you appreciate our Market buildings. You have shown how you appreciate your own Market buildings with this incredible, and award-winning scheme. Thank you for this example and this inspiration.
    If anyone is interested in the status of the demolitions here in London – they have been halted while English Heritage considers a listing application from the organisation ‘SAVE Britain’s Heritage’. Any support from over there would be greatly appreciated…and Strada, would you consider coming over to Spitalfields Market and working some of your magic?!