PPG Place in Downtown Pittsburgh – The Jewel of the City

PPG Place Pittsburgh

The glass castle.  The Pittsburgh skyline is instantly recognizable when you see the glass spires of PPG Place.  One of the city’s iconic skyscrapers, it is home not only to PPG, but also many businesses, educational facilities and boasts a bevy of shops and restaurants.   Pittsburgh’s famous Market Square is also at the foot of the complex.   It’s not just a skyscraper… it’s an experience.

PPG Place Pittsburgh
Photo By Brad Berkstresser

PPG Place is a large commercial complex located in the downtown area of Pittsburgh, PA. The complex covers an area of five and a half acres and consists of six buildings spread across three city blocks. The architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee were responsible for designing the complex, which was named after its primary tenant, PPG Industries. All the buildings in the complex have a uniform design, consisting of 19,750 glass pieces. The project was initiated by PPG Industries to serve as their headquarters. The main building is One PPG Place, a 40-story office building.  This is the unrecognizable “glass castle”.  Construction of the complex began in January of 1981 and the buildings were opened between 1983 and 1984. A dedication ceremony was held on April 11, 1984. The total construction cost of the complex was $200 million, which is equivalent to $561.6 million today. In 2011, The Hillman Company sold the buildings to Highwoods Properties.

PPG Place Pittsburgh
Photo By Brad Berkstresser

PPG Industries, previously known as Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, initiated the construction of a headquarters building for the company after being headquartered in Downtown Pittsburgh since 1895. The renowned architect Philip Johnson, along with his partner John Burgee, was hired by the company for the project. The design of the building is a combination of neogothic style and modern innovations, inspired by various structures such as London’s Victoria Tower, H.H. Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse, and Charles Klauder’s Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. Before the actual construction of the building, a model of 8-feet-tall and 600 pounds was created by Renato “Reno” Chieruzzi in his basement in Tarentum, and the glass for the model was cut at the Ford City PPG works. During the preparation of the site, a team of University of Pittsburgh anthropologists discovered over 10,000 artifacts dating back to the 18th century, which were found in the Kings Garden and Kings Orchard, located about 1,000 feet from the gate to Fort Pitt.  During modern times in Pittsburgh, it was home of Guskey’s Department Store, a four story building for shopping.

The 231 glass spires of the buildings ring the entire complex, with the tallest one measuring 82 feet in height. The reflective insulating glass surfaces were used as a means of advertising the project’s founder. An impressive amount of over one million square feet of PPG glass was used, consisting of 19,750 pieces. One PPG Place is the main 40-story tower, with PPG Industries utilizing half of the space. Additionally, there is a 14-story building and four 6-story structures within the complex, with PPG Industries occupying space in one of the other buildings. The lobby of One PPG features an entrance measuring 50 feet in height and made of red glass. The total cost of the complex was $200 million, which includes 21 elevators with walls made of clear glass panels enclosing fractured glass.

The unique design of the building not only set it apart but also ensured high energy efficiency.  During summer, the building’s glass reflects heat away from it, while during winter, infrared heat is reflected and contained within the building. The walls of the building have a barrier construction that separates the interior walls from the exterior, which is effective in maintaining the building’s temperature. Moreover, the building collects heat from computer equipment and recycles it throughout the structure. The construction of the building was a significant event during Pittsburgh’s “Renaissance II period” when the steel mill closures had a severe impact on the city’s economy, and only Pittsburgh Plate Glass remained a Fortune 500 company. The office space and retail shops opened in August 1983 and November 1984, respectively, and the complex was dedicated on April 11, 1984.

PPG Place is located on six city blocks, covering an area of 5 and a half acres or 22,000 square meters. The complex is bounded by Forbes Avenue and the Boulevard of the Allies on the north and south sides and Stanwix Street and Wood Street on the east and west sides. The complex comprises six buildings surrounding an open-air plaza, including One PPG Place, a 40-story tower that stands at a height of 635 feet or 194 meters, with a total area of around 1.5 million square feet or 140,000 square meters. One PPG Place is the tallest building in the complex and serves as its centerpiece. Two PPG Place, Three PPG Place, Four PPG Place, and Five PPG Place are six-story buildings, while Six PPG Place is a 14-story building that stands at a height of 223 feet.  One PPG Place houses the Wintergarden, an event space that spans 8,000 square feet and features vaulted glass ceilings. It’s worth mentioning that the Wintergarden is part of One PPG Place but is not located within the 40-story tower.

Situated between Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue, the PPG Place Plaza spans across an area of one acre. Designed by WET and SWA Group landscape architecture and urban design, the plaza was opened in 2003 and boasts of a fountain that has 140 water jets and 280 underground lights. At the center of the fountain is a pink granite obelisk. During the winter months, the plaza transforms into the PPG Place Ice Rink, complete with a 60-foot Christmas tree in the center. The rink, which opened in December of 2001, has become a popular seasonal attraction in downtown, and at 13,456 square feet, the surface area is larger than the famous rink in New York’s Rockefeller Center by over 6,000 square feet.

After its completion, PPG Place was highly praised by architectural critics and the media, who referred to it as the “crown jewel in Pittsburgh’s skyline,” a “towering success of downtown Pittsburgh,” and one of the most significant and public-spirited urban developments since Rockefeller Center. According to a survey conducted in 2006 by the Pittsburgh City Paper, PPG Place was voted as the best building in Pittsburgh by its readers. The building’s management company was able to attract out-of-town corporations to relocate to Pittsburgh, resulting in a higher occupancy rate compared to other downtown office buildings. Various companies, such as News America Marketing, Kennametal Inc., and LandAmerica Financial Group, have rented office space in the building. Carnegie Mellon University also operates its alumni relations from the complex.

PPG Place Pittsburgh
Photo By Brad Berkstresser

PPG Place has always inspired a sense of pride in Pittsburgh due to it’s unique characteristics and architectural beauty.  It is often the centerpiece of the millions of pictures of the Pittsburgh skyline taken by local and international photographers.

*Thanks so much to Bradley Berkstresser for his beautiful photography.  You can visit his store here. 

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