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Carnegie Mellon

Artwork Type

Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Monument, Permanent, Sculpture



Hornbostel Mall, 1905-1916, 1925

Henry Hornbostel and Albert Taylor Davis



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Commissioning Entity Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon University)
Owner Carnegie Mellon University

When architect Henry Hornbostel won a competition to design the Carnegie Institute of Technology’s (now Carnegie Mellon University) campus in 1904, he sought to reshape and organize the site’s irregular landscape while capitalizing on its topographical qualities. Hornbostel graded the land, established a strong east-west axis, and arranged buildings around an open space. He was inspired in part by Thomas Jefferson’s Lawn at the University of Virginia (1817-1826), America’s premier university campus, and by the Court of Honor at the famed 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Consequently, Carnegie Tech’s central campus was referred to for a time as the Court of Honor. Now, honoring its designer, Carnegie Mellon University’s principal historic space is called the Hornbostel Mall.

Hornbostel’s plan is monumental in scale, rigorous in organization, and structured with compositional devices such as axiality and symmetry. The spatial axis is flanked by parallel ranges of buildings organized along central spines: Baker and Porter Halls on the southern side, and Doherty Hall (and later Wean Hall) on the northern side. Hamerschlag Hall closes the western end, complete with an iconic tower; and the College of Fine Arts closes the eastern end.  But the Mall is about more than buildings; it’s also about space.

Hornbostel’s Beaux-Arts design principles addressed space as a positive element, rather than just a void.  Space was geometrically structured like architecture and charged with a variety of experiences.  Hornbostel wanted people to enter the campus at its upper eastern end in order to properly perceive the Mall—as it slopes westward down a series of terraces—and the architectural ensemble laid out in full array.  From a viewpoint at the entrance to the College of Fine Arts building, he established a pictorial vista that extends along the primary axis of the campus and beyond.

This carefully designed vista reveals a variety of precedents and allusions in addition to those mentioned so far.  The Mall is an exercise in one-point linear perspective. It is structured and in some respects functions as a stage set. It represents Pittsburgh industry by focusing on a power plant (Hamerschlag Hall) with a smokestack instead of Jefferson’s library.  And it incorporates aspects of a French Baroque garden including optical illusions. When seen from the College of Fine Arts, Hamerschlag Hall appears to sit comfortably at the end of a level lawn despite the terraces in the Mall and the topographical complexity of its actual siting; and the Hamerschlag Hall tower appears to stand directly over the entrance to the building, while it is actually located 140 feet further to the west. These visual effects break down as one moves through the space, prompting alternative perceptions and experiences.  

Following many years of building construction and widespread disruption of the campus for World War I military training, landscape architect Albert Davis Taylor created the school’s first landscape plan in the 1920s. Sidewalks and rows of trees were added to the Mall. Much of this sensibility remains, though the trees on the north side of the Mall were lost due to an underground steam heating system. The lower end of the Mall was rebuilt about 1970 as the roof of an arm of Wean Hall, and was rebuilt again in 2015. Scott Hall and a gratuitous extension of the lawn, now Hamerschlag Hall, alter the Mall’s spatial dynamics. A number of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s design-built seating projects are tucked into recesses along the perimeter of the Mall. Public art on the Mall includes Snowmen, by Gary Hume (2004), and Mao Yisheng (2006). Walking to the Sky (2006), by Jonathan Borofsky, almost landed here as well.

By Martin Aurand, architecture librarian and archivist at Carnegie Mellon University


Sources

Aurand, Martin.  The Spectator and the Topographical City.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006.

Kidney, Walter C.  Henry Hornbostel: An Architect's Master Touch.  Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, 2002.

 
 

Henry Hornbostel (1867-1961), a Brooklyn native, designed 110 buildings in Pittsburgh -- which accounts for nearly half of his designs over his lifetime. Hornbostel was classically trained in architecture in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts.  Although his work is evident throughout the city of Pittsburgh, he was also known to be a whimsical public figure, often sporting a red bowtie and carrying a cane. He served as Allegheny County’s director of parks in the 1930s. Biography taken from Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts Profile. 

 

Albert Davis Taylor (1883-1951) was a landscape architect who practiced in Cleveland.  He contributed to the design of Kent State and Notre Dame Universities, and collaborated with Henry Hornbostel at the Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio.  He designed landscapes for residences, housing subdivisions, and hospitals, and the site plan for the Pentagon.  Taylor’s firm completed many public parks and other projects for the Civil Works Administration during the Depression, and Taylor served as a consultant to the United Sates Forest Service.