|Commissioning Entity||Carnegie Mellon University|
|Owner||Carnegie Mellon University|
The Jared L. Cohon University Center, designed by Michael Dennis Associates, opened in 1996 as part of Carnegie Mellon University’s East Campus development. The second-floor walls of the building’s central rotunda host an enormous panoramic mural drawn by Pittsburgh artist Douglas Cooper, who may be the foremost artistic interpreter of Pittsburgh’s urban landscape. Cooper envisioned the mural as a landscape that would be seen through various architectural openings in the building, and across the space of the rotunda; and as a stage set of sorts that would permit the viewer to enter into the deep space of the drawing. When examined at close range it reveals the virtuosity of Cooper’s drawing technique and the density and complexity of the city of Pittsburgh.
Cooper drew the University Center mural in with the aid of two assistants, Jonathan Kline and John Trivelli, and Cooper’s daughter Sarah. The mural, which is 10 feet high and more than 200 feet long, consists of 150 panels of various sizes. It is drawn in charcoal on paper that was pre-mounted over fiberboard panels. The panels are protected by several layers of clear acrylic and several additional layers of varnish.
The mural shows Pittsburgh in three ways, with a special focus on Carnegie Mellon University and on Cooper’s beloved Forbes Field, the former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
The east wall shows Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood during the 1960s (more or less) when Cooper was a student at Carnegie Mellon and lived across the street from Forbes Field. Major sections of the mural show Oakland as seen from an elevated vantage point at the top of Robinson Street; yet the panorama extends to the Hill District and to the Monongahela River, which is twisted to afford views of its industrial river valley in one direction and of downtown Pittsburgh in the other direction.
The west wall shows the current and future (as envisioned in 1996) Carnegie Mellon University campus within the context of vast swaths of Oakland and the downtown skyline.
The north wall, which is broken by and wraps around three sets of double doors, shows portions of Pittsburgh—especially downtown—during various time periods, and utilizes the Monongahela River to tie the scenes together.
Altogether the mural depicts Pittsburgh as city of hills, ravines, and rivers; of campus buildings, bridges, steel mills, and workers houses; and of locomotives, barges, streetcars, and automobiles. It emerges out of history, memory, and storytelling; incorporates contributions from local residents; and features elements of biography, especially Cooper’s own. Most of the drawing is obsessively and realistically detailed; yet some is looser, more naïve, and nearly childlike in its simplicity. Perspective shifts and shifts again through episodes of precipitous incline and distortion seen from diverse points of view. Buildings, neighborhoods, and topographies are adjusted, relocated, or omitted to make the mural inclusive and expansive. Cooper’s mural reveals Pittsburgh as a place dynamically situated between reality and the imagination.
Cooper, Douglas. Steel Shadows: Murals and Drawings of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.
Doug Cooper. https://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/dcooper/
Douglas Cooper (1946- ) is the Andrew Mellon Professor of Architecture in the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon, where he teaches freehand drawing to architecture students. In addition to the University Center Mural, Cooper created an earlier mural at the Senator John Heinz History Center (1995) in Pittsburgh, a later mural at Carnegie Mellon University’s campus in Qatar (2008), a short animated film Pinburgh (2011), and many other public murals and related artworks. He has authored two books on drawing: Drawing and Perceiving (1983, 1992, 2000, 2007), a key text for drawing instruction; and Steel Shadows (2000), which focuses on his Pittsburgh work and tells the story of the University Center Mural.