Sketch Design/Case Competition

During January 2010, this two-part interdisciplinary project was sponsored within Carnegie Mellon University by the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry (College of Fine Arts), School of Architecture (College of Fine Arts), Institute for Social Innovation (Heinz College), Tepper School of Business, and Project Olympus (School of Computer Science).  Babs Carryer, adjunct professor at Heinz College, and Christine Mondor, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, served as primary organizers of the events.

Part One – The School of Architecture hosted a 4-day sketch competition for all students in its five-year program to develop sketch designs for the roof top of the U. S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. On Jan 11, 2010, 32 teams of architecture students and faculty members were asked to consider the possibilities and challenges involved with transforming this presently empty acre into an environment that would simultaneously be a showcase of sustainability, incorporate green technologies, and provide benefit to society and the region. On January 14, five submissions were selected to continue to the next competition.

Part Two –  On January 14, 5 teams of masters level students from Heinz College and the Tepper School interested in social innovation and social entrepreneurship were selected by the staff of the Institute of Social Innovation and assigned to one of the five selected architectural designs. Teams were challenged to create a business case for that plan, with a goal of achieving a triple bottom line: financial sustainability, benefit to society, and green. On January 19, the five teams made Power Point presentations of their cases before a panel of five off-campus professionals and an assembled audience of more than 80 on-lookers. A first and second place were selected and participants in those teams, both business and architecture, received cash prizes.

Both competitions were recorded for a 30-minute video documentary, The Roof of the World, which has since been shown on WQED TV.

Here’s where to view:

1. Complete results of the competitions, teams rosters, and project submissions

2. PowerPoint of the submitted sketch designs.

3. Menu of exhibit materials for the project

Competition Brief

“Pittsburgh stands as a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st century economy. It has transformed itself from the city of steel to a center for high-tech innovation—including green technology, education and training, and research and development.  It is both a beautiful backdrop and a powerful example for our work.”President Obama announcing G-20 Conference


For the last four decades Pittsburgh has had bragging rights to a site that is singular in the entire world. Unfortunately, nobody realized it.

The U. S. Steel Tower has been a signature landmark since it opened in August 1970. Still Pittsburgh’s largest and tallest office building, it stands 841 feet above Grant Street, with each of its 64 stories measuring nearly an acre in area (41,164 square feet).

Designed by the firm of Harrison, Abramovitz & Abbe, the building is architecturally recognized for its triangular shape with truncated corners, as well as its external girdering system, which pioneered the use of Cor-ten steel.

Its roof, once intended to serve as a heliport, is the high center point in a broad circumference of southwestern Pennsylvania that extends to the horizon in all directions.

Recently David Bear, now a fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, has discovered this remarkable roof holds an even more notable distinction.

Although the U. S. Steel Tower doesn’t rank among the top 100 tallest buildings in terms of height, because of its unique design, it stands out in terms of roof area. In fact, nowhere else even comes close. Its roof top is the largest highest space on top of any building on earth.

The High Point Park Investigation was conceived to explore creative options for making sustainable use of this flat, empty, one-acre roof top platform and the unprecedented civic opportunity it presents. In the ideal, this high-visibility facility will become an important local asset and downtown first-day attraction that will advance the Pittsburgh area’s regional, national and even international reputation for green innovation and help re-define ideas about public/private partnerships and foster a reevaluation of the uses of high rooftops everywhere.

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