|Commissioning Entity||Pittsburgh Cultural Trust|
|Owner||The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust|
|ADA Services||The plaza is wheelchair accessible. The stone eyeball benches may be touched and sat upon. The paving in the plaza is highly textured.|
“Few things better define a city than how it uses public space,” wrote Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editors in a 1999 January editorial. The editors praised the plan for the development of Agnes Katz Plaza, a $4 million endeavor spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The redevelopment of the area was in response to the newly built O’Reilly Theater and its adjacent parking garage designed by architect Michael Graves. Graves collaborated with artist Louise Bourgeois and landscape architect Daniel Kiley in the creation of the plaza.
The 23,000-square-foot plaza is surrounded on three sides by 32 linden trees. In the center is a 25-foot bronze fountain. The fountain’s water is heated and flows year-round. Underneath is a vault containing the fountain’s pipes. Thoughtfully placed in the plaza are three pairs of granite eyeball seats, and around the periphery are granite benches. Filling the plaza’s floor are ornamental granite paving stones.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1999, Kiley described how the design of the plaza was a marriage between his, Bourgeois’, and Graves’ ideas. Agnes Katz Plaza was designed to allow the bronze fountain to be the dominant feature. Kiley selected linden trees because of their ability to withstand harsh weather and survive in urban landscapes. Moreover, the trees’ dense canopy creates strong architectural lines within the space. Taller linden trees were planted along the back edge of the plaza, while slightly shorter trees were planted along each side. According to Kiley, the height difference gave a three-dimensional effect.
Bourgeois’ sculptural eyeball seating is similar to her previous public artwork focusing on body parts, such as Hands in New York City. The fountain was Bourgeois’ first, and at the time, her largest piece ever completed. The fountain was cast at a foundry in upstate New York, and the granite eyeballs were carved in Italy. For some, the two water spouts at the top of the fountain are seen as lactating breasts, while Bourgeois’ assistant was quoted as saying that the two streams of water “represent a couple whose lives mesh.”
The main goal for the plaza was to create a space where users could move freely and experience the design and sculpture in various ways. Carol Brown, then president of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said the plaza will be “a distinguished addition to Pittsburgh’s urban landscape…an excellent complement to other outdoor spaces such as Mellon Square and Point State Park.”
By Rachel Klipa, Office of Public Art
Caroline Abels, “Katz Plaza in cultural district is dedicated,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 3, 1999.
Tom Barnes, “Trust to unveil designs,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 12, 1998.
Patricia Lowry, “Architect lays out the design ideas for Katz Plaza,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 27, 1999.
Rudolph H. Weingartner, “A few suggestions on the O’Reilly,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 10, 1999.
Editorial Board, “Vision Thing,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 30, 1998.
Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was a highly acclaimed French-American sculptor. Her work explored domesticity, femininity, the body, and death. Bourgeois created several works of public art, one of the most famous being immense, steel sculptures of spiders titled Maman.
Michael Graves & Associates, Architect
Daniel Urban Kiley, Landscape Architect