The 1787 plan for the City of Allegheny by John Redick designated the four central blocks of the 26-block plan for public use. The southwest of these squares, now Buhl Community Park, located across from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, was originally open public space known as Diamond Park as part of the larger Allegheny Square.
In 1965, as part of the Urban Renewal of that area, the park was changed to a modern design with projecting balconies and a sunken fountain almost entirely in concrete. The once-fashionable but never really welcoming space, with 90 percent paving and only 10 percent plant material, quickly fell into disrepair.
Following the successes of their expansion of 2006, the Children’s Museum began a project to renovate the public square. A series of public presentations with community groups and city officials introduced the idea of a design competition and allowed various constituencies to contribute ideas and make recommendations as part of that process.
A ten-person jury of designers, critics, and community members chose a design by Andrea Cochran Landscape Architects. Part of her firm’s proposal was to include Cloud Arbor, an environmental artwork by Ned Kahn, the designer of Articulated Cloud, the piece on the Children's Museum's facades.
The landscape design aims to recognize historical paths, buildings, and sightlines, but to articulate the relationships in a contemporary way that also incorporates a substantial number of ecologically-minded features. The space has a primary pathway that goes from southwest to northeast, leading to and framing the Allegheny Public Library and Concert Hall. A secondary path goes from Southeast to northwest. A wider paved space near the center provides an area for an extensive schedule of programmed events
The north section of the park is a meadow, with native grasses and clover that don’t need pesticides. Low walls in bluestone, a native material, provide seating. To the west, next to three preserved bald cypress trees, a bioswale captures storm water for slow release. To the east is a planted area of shade trees and indigenous plants.
Ned Kahn's piece, Cloud Arbor is set just off center of the program space. Its 64 thin vertical poles, placed in a grid of 30 feet, emit a cloud of mist on frequent intervals, controlled by the operators of the park. A contemporary but much more efficient play on a more conventional fountain, it attracts young and old visitors.
By Charles R. Rosenblum, Ph. D.
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture is a San Fransisco based firm. It was founded in 1998 by Andrea Cochran. Cochran is a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.