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FEATURE

OLD DRAWINGS RENDER THE CAMPUSES PITT
ENVISIONED BUT NEVER BUILT

THE BEST LAID PLANS
WRITTEN BY LAURA SHEFLER
When we build, we build mysteries. Though architects can plan spacious rooms or narrow hallways, dark quiet corners or open, sunny expanses, no one can plan for the spirit of a building. A building's spirit comes from the shape of its exterior, the height of its ceilings, the color of its walls -- but also from the way its doors squeak, the skid of shoes on its floors, the harmonics that overlay a tune whistled in its echoing corridors. Whether it's a house or a classroom building or a library that we erect, we create a structure that defies understanding. What makes architecture so fascinating is that buildings embody deep, conflicting impulses. We expect the best buildings to meet our practical needs -- for warmth or co mfort or safe and quiet spaces -- yet somehow, with arches or balconies or windows, to satisfy some of our wildest yearnings.

We count on buildings to be solid and reliable, edifices of wood or brick or reinforced concrete, far removed from anything so unpredictable as human feeling. Yet, buildings house more than just our bodies, more than just our desks and our chairs. Buildings house our emotions. And inevitably, the buildings on your university campus make an indelible imprint on your life. Though you may not recall the equations that you memorized before a big exam, you will not forget the wakeful red carpet in the William Pitt Union, where you studied past midnight. You will recall that you got lost in the vast hallways of Forbes Quadrangle on your first week at Pitt. You will remember the way that wandering Forbes Quad's vast hallways mad e you realize, with a keen mix of fear and excitement, how new you were to the campus. How much your life had suddenly changed. From the evening seminar you took in a classroom near the top of the Cathedral, you will retain more than just what you learned about contemporary poetry. You will recall the way the wind whistled and rattled the windows on cold October nights. You will remember the view that the "high building" made possible; the way one blossoming cloud on the horizon turned pink then orange as the sun set over the Monongahela. The way your professor finally puffed the blinds because the light was so strong.

The drawings and photographs we offer here, on the other hand, depict not the Pitt that you know, but, rather, the Pitt that might have been. Most of them are drawn from the archived files in the dark corners of Pitt's Fa cilities Management office. Many of them appeared recently in an exhibit entitled "Planning the Pitt Campus: Dreams and Schemes Never Realized." This exhibit was shown at the University Art Gallery in the Frick Fine Arts Building. Organized by the gallery 's acting director, Matthew Roper, the assistant director, Leesa Rittelman, and research assistant Diane Pool, this exhibit displayed drawings, blueprints, and other documents from building projects that were proposed but never completed. In some cases a building that was eventually constructed, such as the Cathedral of Learning or the Frick Fine Arts Building, had earlier designs that were set aside. In fact, under the direction of history of art and architecture professor Franklin Toker, a group of Pit t students put together a separate section of the exhibit on the 57-year evolution of plans for a fine arts building at Pitt. In other cases building proposals were simply set aside. Take, for instance, Chancellor Edward Litchfield's Panther Hollow project -- a "skyscraper on its side" that was to have filled in much of the mile-long Panther Hollow ravine. It proved, in the words of the exhibit catalog, "so grandiose that costs led to postponement or cancellation."

With the images we present here, we invite you to explore these never-built buildings in your imagination. Who would we have been if we had stood conversing under the Gothic arches of the Chemistry and Pharmacy Building? What if we had wandered our way to class among the English cottages, intended as artist's studios, that might have been erected on the Cathedral of Learning lawn?: Would we have worked harder if we had passed our afternooons five stories below ground leve l, cradled in the midst of Panther Hollow? Perhaps we would have studied more stoically on a campus built according to the classical Greek "acropolis plan." In fact, our lives are so closely tied to our environments that even subtle aspects of architectu re can influence the course of our existence. What if the fine arts building had been constructed with its back turned toward the campus and its face turned toward Schenley Park? Who knows what personal schemes and daydreams we might have ventured during the extra 30 seconds it would have taken to reach the front door. We ask you to consider for a moment these plans, envisioned but never carried out, as more than just sketches and models. We ask you to think of them as a set-aside but rediscovered part o f our collective history. They represent not just the many other buildings we might have seen, but also the many other lives we might have led.


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