Located in Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District, once the city’s manufacturing and shipping center along the Allegheny River, the History Center is an adaptive reuse project commissioned by the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, in affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. Formally a building that housed the offices and operations of the Chautauqua Lake Ice Company, the History Center is now a multi-function museum, library, archive and educational facility celebrating the rich history of Western Pennsylvania.
The building has a plain, muscular quality that bespeaks Pittsburgh's industrial heritage. Originally used as an ice storage facility, its first floor is tall enough to accommodate rail cars deliveries. In keeping with its historic functionality, storing ice, the building has relatively small and very few windows. This is a good match for exhibit areas where a "black box" setting is desired, and for archival storage areas where protection from ultraviolet light is of paramount concern.
The overall design strategy emphasizes the strong character of the building's original structural materials. New systems, such as exposed ductwork, conduit, and low-voltage lighting systems are integrated with the structure while adhering to the same direct, unembellished design approach that pervades the old building. New structural glass walls maintain visually open interior spaces, and establish a clear distinction between new construction and the existing building fabric. The resulting amalgam of old and new is a fitting setting for the interpretation and celebration of history in America's foremost industrial city.