Wednesday, May 15, 2013

PPG Place, Pittsburgh

"PPG Place", 2007 photo taken by Derek Jensen (Tysto).
"PPG Place is a complex in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, consisting of six buildings within three city blocks and five and a half acres. Named for its anchor tenant, PPG Industries, who initiated the project for its headquarters, the buildings are all of matching glass design consisting of 19,750 pieces of glass. ...The complex buildings opened between 1983 and 1984, [...after]  PPG Industries (formerly Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company)...contracted the project to architect Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee. Designed in the neogothic style but with modern innovations, the complex had many inspirations, including London's Victoria Tower, and H.H. Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse and Charles Klauder's Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. ...The buildings are recognized by their 231 glass spires, with the largest one 82 feet (25 m) tall. Also notable are the surfaces of reflective insulating glass, that served to advertise the project's founder. The buildings contain over one million square feet of PPG's Solarban 550 Twindow - 19,750 pieces. ...The design of the building not only made it distinct, but created high energy-efficiency. Heat in the summer is reflected away from the building by the glass, while in winter infrared heat is reflected and contained within the building. The surface walls feature a barrier construction that effectively separates the interior walls from the exterior. The building also collects heat from computer equipment and recycles it throughout the structure." (

PPG Place from "Reflections" series. Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee.

The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company has been headquartered in Pittsburgh since 1895. In 1883 "Captain John B. Ford and John Pitcairn together establish[ed] the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG). They set up shop in Creighton, Pa., along the Allegheny River – about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. PPG [became] the first commercially successful U.S. producer of high-quality, thick flat glass using the plate process. [...In 1898 the] company develop[ed] a process for producing thinner glass with the plate process, thereby broadening uses for the high-quality glass." (

At the beginning of the plate glass industry, PPG amassed huge profits because of a high tariff on foreign glass products, which allowed PPG to keep wages below those of comparable industry wages. ("Glass and the Tariff", Tariff Reform, Vol. III, No. 21, December 15, 1890, pp. 395-396) PPG was not always a model of community spirit and cooperation as there were many labor disputes and strikes from its beginnings.

Throughout the twentieth, and into the twenty-first century PPG continued to expand by acquiring related companies, through research and development, and by expanding internationally. "Plate glass played a critical role in the architecture of American stores and office buildings in the first decades of the twentieth century. At the same time, however, other rapidly growing industries needed glass. By 1930, the automobile industry had become PPG's largest customer; the company was a pioneer in safety glass. By that time PPG's paint business–it had diversified into paints in 1900–was actually larger than its glass business." (

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