Art Restart: Art as a Mechanism of Revitalization in Urban Neighborhoods

Open Access
Halm, Emily Christine
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Architecture
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Darla V Lindberg, Thesis Supervisor
  • Christine Lee Gorby, Honors Advisor
  • Revitalization
  • Art
  • Restoration
  • Experimental Architecture
  • Architectural Design
  • Museum
  • Gallery
  • Mobile Architecture
Up until this point in history the United States has held the reputation of growth, and for that reason architects and city planners have been trained to “think big.” Even in times of recession, like the one we face now, many designers may continue designing buildings as they always have, consoling themselves with the idea that “things will turn around, they always do.” But what if things don’t get better, but go down a totally different path? Cities around the US are facing drastic changes caused by deindustrialization, and globalization, causing people to move out. These forces will very likely never allow American cities to grow at the same rate they did in the past. As, city populations shrink and remaining residents move themselves closer to the city center, entire urban areas are left abandoned. We as designers, are forced to fight our instincts and “think small” as we address what to do with these deserted places now. An interesting approach to abandoned places has been adopted by artists, who have been taking up buildings piece by piece, using them as homes and studios; working, living, mending, all at the same time, using the building elements as an outlet for their artistic expression. These projects are usually no larger than a single dwelling unit, but where one artist finds a canvas, other artists follow. What has resulted in many instances, is a community-wide rejuvenation of many abandoned area. These projects have been particularly successful when the artists work is opened up to the public, and in the central northside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, there is a museum that has used this approach to begin to rejuvenate the area. This museum, The Mattress Factory, began with the vision of Barbara Luderowski, who obtained ownership of an abandoned mattress factory, hoping that it would open up opportunities to create her art at a larger scale. In order to support her work there, she started a food co-op based out of the building, which brought this amazing, flexible workspace to other like-minded artists. Soon the Mattress Factory evolved into a place where artists from around the city could create room-sized art installations without limitations. And the public was invited to observe, expanding their knowledge of the city’s art scene. Now, the museum has expanded to several building throughout the neighborhood, beginning to reinvigorate the area, and encouraging the progress of the art movement in the area. But the neighborhood is still in dire need of help, with a prevalent supply of run-down and abandoned buildings and issues with public safety, there needs to be more of a push in this direction towards the arts. A block of abandoned buildings at the gateway to the neighborhood would be the ideal testing grounds for The Mattress Factory to use as an expansion location.