Category Archives: Pittsburgh

10 Random Thoughts

Hi friends. I’ve had several random thoughts over the past few days.

1. It’s back to school time. I’ll be going into my third full academic year teaching at Chatham University. One of the many positives of my position there is that the personalities of groups of students as a whole completely differ from year to year. Its always fun to see what the new group has to offer.

2. Its unfortunate, but it sure seems like the media LOVES natural disasters. I mean, when else do you find yourself flipping to the Weather Channel on a Saturday night? On that note, I’m glad that it has not been as severe as anticipated. I’m especially glad it didn’t make its way here – an earthquake and a hurricane in Pittsburgh in like 10 days? Boy, that would blow the whole safe geographical region theory out of the water. BTW, did you see the FOX reporter covered in ‘sea foam’?! Gross.

3. I generally dislike most things Cleveland, with the exception of a few great friends that live there of course :). I did think it was very cool though that Jim Thome has returned to play for the Indians. If you don’t follow sports, you won’t get it. But I can appreciate how cool that must be for Indians fans, and I’m happy for them.

4. Every year at this time I wish I could have played in the Little League World Series. There were more people watching one game there than PNC Park can even hold!

5. I’m determined to get back in shape [or in for the first time? :/ ] Nonetheless, here we go. Been at it for about 2 weeks now at the new gym, and it feels great. I look back at what I grew up eating and I feel so sick about it that it gives me motivation to gain back whatever health I lost from all of that junk. If you’ve never done one or never heard of one, a community supported agriculture [CSA] program is a great way to start eating healthier and supporting local farms. Highly recommend it.

6. Highmark and UPMC need to get their you know what together. There’s no denying that UPMC provides good health care, but their guise of operating under a non-profit status has allowed them to become a dangerous monopoly. Of course, though, the man at the top of the political food chain here won’t do anything about it. He’ll get swatted like a fly if he buzzes into that conversation. Good for Highmark to step up and try to compete.

7. What on earth did people do before cell phones in the business world? Specifically the iPhone? Did projects take like 6 times longer to produce? I can’t even imagine it.

8. In what setting do you find yourself running into the most ‘Yinzers’? Steeler games, Kenny Chesney concerts, 4th of July Fireworks, where? To be honest, they annoy me and do not reflect the modern day Pittsburgh. I always hear people making fun of Pittsburghese n’at, but I rarely hear it anymore. Count me as one person that is happy about that. I love what we are about here, but come on, we’re a bit more civilized and cultured as a region than some people you stumble across around here.

9. I’ve never let myself watch Jersey Shore because, well, talk about an embarrassment to the identity of a country. However, I’ve let myself get sucked in to this season in Florence. At least they haven’t destroyed anything there yet. Its pretty surreal seeing those fools running around in the same areas we were in back in the day.

10. I’ll be in Vegas with the wifey next weekend for our first anniversary trip. That went by fast! Was a fantastic first year though :). We even added to the family: Reindeer Herding. Cheers to great and long lasting marriages…see yinz in awhile.

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A Trip Through ‘Bat’Burgh

So, I had to take a quick drive today to pick something up in Mount Washington. It was 3:00, and I was in Homewood. I started thinking, “OK, I have to go through one tunnel, through a detour downtown, over a bridge, and up a hill nearing 4:00.’ I was not anticipating this being a pleasant trip. However, to my amazement, the trip was not only smooth but very memorable…especially the return route. I swiftly made it up to my destination in about 20 minutes. As I started back, I decided to take a different route that I knew wouldn’t be as bad as the Parkway East Outbound 4:00 daily nightmare.

First, while on Mount Washington, I was reminded of how unique this neighbrhood was – very blue collar, but 30 seconds away from arguably the best view of a city in the U.S.. So unique. Then I passed Chatham Village, pocketed right in the middle of Mount Washington. I was taken back to Architectural History at Kent, when I researched and wrote on this neighborhood as one of the best planned residential areas anywhere. Its preservation is stunning. I came down the hill and within 5 minutes I was in Oakland. Well documented, obviously, but noticeably urban – I pass it every day, but always feel like more of Pittsburgh should feel like Oakland. Then, I pass Batman. Yes, Batman. How cool is it that we have become a destination for Hollywood to come shoot big time films? Zoomed through Shadyside, the affluent, old money beauty that resides in city limits. The best residential area of Pittsburgh. Before I knew it, I was in Squirrel Hill by the Jewish Comunity Center – such a timeless community with deep heritage.

I made the entire round trip in under an hour. Not that this surprised me, really, nor had I not seen all of this stuff hundreds of times [besides Batman] but my return trip reminded me this about Pittsburgh: it is so very cool. Where else could you possibly live that in that short amount of time, you can see so many unique, authentic, beautiful, and vibrant neighborhoods? And along the way, you see Batman?!

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Pittsburgh – Most Livable U.S. City…Again

This article from Reuters says The Economist lists Pittsburgh as America’s most livable city.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/21/us-cities-liveable-idUSTRE71K0NS20110221?pageNumber=1

That’s a tag that we’ve seen a few times here over the past few years, and is certainly a very impressive designation. My wonderful friends in Vancouver quickly pointed out that their city comes in at #1 most livable in the world, with Pittsburgh down at #29. Having been to Vancouver to see them, I can totally understand why. We can certainly be happy about our #1 designation in the U.S., but hearing this again raised some questions for me more than anything:

1. How are we #1 in the U.S.? I love this city as much as anyone, but this city has its deficiencies. We obviously have a great healthcare system, world-class higher education, low cost of living/housing, great arts and culture scene. However, our public transit stinks, there is no downtown residential market, no favorable climate for businesses to move downtown, and a political structure unwilling to allow those with a vision in office to pursue that vision. We all know that our mayor doesn’t have one. It appears as though density equals crime and congestion, which hurts the major worldwide metropolises.

2. How is the top U.S. city only #29 in the world? That to me is fairly embarrassing on a larger scale. I will admit that I have yet to visit a city in the U.S. that has the amenities that a Vancouver does, so I won’t argue their #1 position. That’s a great city. But how far have we gone downhill that the U.S. has the 29th most livable city in the world? That’s just truly baffling to me.

3. If Pittsburgh is #1 in the U.S., how do we improve it to push it up the list worldwide? As a passionate Pittsburgher with no intentions of leaving soon, I want to be able to affect change in this city. That is one marvelous thing about this town – it is very small. If you want to affect change, you most certainly can. I don’t bring up the deficiencies of Pittsburgh to merely criticize it – I don’t think we can gloat that we get a designation like this and be happy. There are many, many things that can be improved upon to make this city an even better place. If anyone gets complacent about that, we are in trouble.

4. Refer to question #1. Just how bad are other U.S. cities transportation systems, costs of living, etc that Pittsburgh tops them all? Moreover, what happens if Pittsburgh gets hot and the housing market spikes up to the levels of other major areas? Suddenly, we aren’t so ‘livable’.

Lists like these are always great for the morale, and always a reminder to me how lucky we are live here. However, I’m going to keep doing what I can to move our city up that list – ’cause in this big town/small city we live in, its possible for a guy like me a or a person like you to affect this whole city. Now THAT is advantage Pittsburgh.

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Black and Yellow

It’s only fair that this blog can post about our adored Steelers making it to Super Bowl 45, in Dallas to try and win their NFL leading 7th Super Bowl. However, as important as that game is on many levels [it also falls on the wife’s birthday], I also find it very important to boast about just how much attention has been paid to Pittsburgh[ers] in the recent days. Its fairly amazing. Let me begin this lengthy list:

—Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, is quickly becoming a favorite of the young audiophile on a national level – and he lives in Polish Hill. So much so, the New York Times wrote about him. I was at his Stage AE concert the night the building opened up, and can’t remember many other shows that have ever been that much fun.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/magazine/09GirlTalk-t.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=girl%20talk&st=cse

—Wiz Khalifa, a Taylor Allderdice grad, is currently sitting #3 on the Billboard charts with the newly adopted Pittsburgh anthem ‘Black and Yellow’. For the seasoned Yinzer, the ‘yellow’ instead of ‘gold’ may take some time to adjust to, but in the 21st century, I think Pittsburgh has found a new name for the same color. It really is yellow, anyways. This track was big to begin with, BEFORE the Steelers started making a Super Bowl run. Now, there are dozens of cheesy knock offs from other cities, and Wiz will be getting paid off this song for the rest of his life.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703399204576108530458458472.html?mod=wsj_share_twitter

—Google is a software giant. Duh. But did you know they invested in Pittsburgh? They’re hiring, too…

http://www.popcitymedia.com/devnews/googleexpansion011211.aspx

—The fastest growing company in the country? Groupon. Where’s that guy from? Pittsburgh.

—You may have heard of a hockey game that they play outside. Our team played in it, and it was played here. Oh yeah, alot of people watched, too.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_716364.html

—Pitt football may not be at the top echelon of college football programs yet, but basketball is. They’re currently ranked #4 in the country and have had more than a few nationally televised games. Even tiny little Duquesne University is #33 in basketball.

—The head coach of the Super Bowl opponent Packers? Yep, he’s from Pittsburgh too.

—Dejan Kovacevic writes a great article about Pittsburgh, aka ‘The City of Champions’. Did you know that in the last 40 years, only three cities have more major sports championships than Pittsburgh? LA, Boston, and New York. Each of those cities has at least one if not more teams than us to begin with. If we win tonight, we’ll be tied at 12 championships in 40 years with Boston and New York.

http://www.postgazette.com/pg/11037/1123144-66.stm

—And the biggest of them all comes tonight. There’s over 5,000 journalists in Dallas writing way too much information on this Super Bowl, but that’s ok. It all just reflects back to this city, its people, and our love and connection to our city and sports teams. 3 Super Bowl wins in 6 years sounds really nice.

Here we go Steelers, here we go.

Can you only imagine if we had a real baseball team?

Most importantly, Happy Birthday to my fabulous wife!

 

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Restaurant Review – Spoon

Preface: I’m no culinary expert, but I love good food. I’m going to just give it to you as I taste it.

On Saturday, my lovely wife took me out for a pre-birthday dinner. I wanted to try out one of the several new, highly buzzed about restaurants around town, so we went to Spoon. I never got to eat at its predecessor, Red Room, in the edge-of-scaryness-but-very-cool space in East Liberty, but I did want to make sure I got into what followed it.

The space itself is very dim, very chic, not overly expressive of its food like many restaurants, and very comfortable.

We both saw a five course tasting option on the menu, and as a first time guest, we both thought it might be fun to try. Little did we know how much food was coming, and just how good it was.

1. Pre-appetizer appetizer: Duo of bean soup. A play on ‘split pea soup’. Served in an espresso shot cup to be sipped, not spooned. Served with white bean on one side, black on the other…not sure how they did that. Certainly something I wouldn’t order off the menu [if you know me, I’m not a big bean guy….and I eat almost anything]. But the flavor was great, the ham hock was great, and we were off and running.

2. Appetizer #2: Gorgonzola Blue Cheese Souffle. Again, something that wouldn’t jump out at me. Souffle was fantastic, fluffy, warm, and just right. The salad next to it with beets, grapefruit, fennel, and arugula is DEFINITELY something I wouldn’t normally get. To my surprise, I could have eaten that all day long. Perfect second dish.

3. Appetizer #3: Cassoulet. Shellbeans and tomato stew [alright, enough with the beans already] with duck confit and homemade sausage. The duck and sausage were killer – the beans, well, that’s just me. My least favorite of the three starters, but if you like duck, that’s a great dish.

[By this point, we are already getting pretty full – especially on the three homemade breads that are on the table too that are fantastic]

4. Main Course #1: Crispy Skin Wild Striped Bass. The fish was perfect, and sitting on a play off clam chowder with one clam and the whole dish sitting in some chowder-like cream sauce. The bass was cooked beautifully. I probably would have ordered this off the menu if I had to choose an entree, and very happy they brought this. Excellently prepared.

[By this point, the wife is hurting, and I’m close.]

5. Main Course #2: Grilled NY Strip. Very pumped about this one. Came out rare, but oh so tasty. Comes with some bacon and mushroom spoon bread, but that didn’t go well for either of us. The creamed spinach, as much as I also shy away from spinach, was excellent. I was beyond stuffed at this point but I actually kept trying to eat more spinach.

[We’re both afraid we may fall asleep at the table now.]

6. Dessert: Date Cake w/ Bourbon Brown Sugar Ice Cream. OMG.We thought there was no way we could eat dessert. This dessert changed that mood quickly. My wife is still dreaming about this date cake, and I’m dreaming about that ice cream. They even gave me a nice Happy Birthday message on the plate in chocolate. Seriously, who comes up with making a cake out of dates? Amazing. The ice cream, though, was unlike anything I had ever tasted. Could eat it ALL DAY.

Overall, that was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Most likely the best I’ve ever had in Pittsburgh for sure. The tasting menu was a fantastic way to try out a lot of the menu for future visits. It’s a decent price tag per person, but it comes with a ton of food overall. Service was impeccable, to boot.

Bob gives this one two thumbs up, and will definitely be visiting there again.

The only curious thing was, I didn’t have to eat anything with a spoon?

 

Spoon

134 South Highland Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

spoonpgh.com

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Shelton Trade Center

My father recently opened Shelton Trade Center- a place where young adults that need hope and gainful employment can come and learn about the trades. Please watch the video below. Our website has just launched! Please visit www.sheltontradecenter.org

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The Great Design Recession

My very first post on this blog was published on July 29th of this year. It can be found here. It speaks about a few things, but it expresses my concern for talented students of mine not being able to find work…along with alot of other people. Five months later, things don’t seem to look a whole lot different in the general market. Our industry is getting hit with an unemployment rate of double or more the national average. Plenty of firm leaders aren’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Or if they are, they know things will be very, very different when it all settles.

The AEC industry was one of the first to get hit in 2007, and looks to be one of the last to recover. The primary reason for this is simple: money. Until the banks start lending normally and the private sector starts taking risks, things will not recover fully. Federal money to fund school, infrastructure, and government projects are simply a band-aid right now that only a few parts of the industry are able to benefit from and are not a sustainable option at many levels.

 

This rant stems from an article from Architectural Record that was published on Monday – it can be found here. Even the founder of my old firm is quoted, and then beat up a little in the comments section at the end.

I say all of this to stress the importance of one segment of that article:

“Yet an alternate reading of the tea leaves suggests that what may really be happening is that architecture is not keeling over but molting. Increasingly, it is becoming a multidisciplinary profession that will benefit generalists over experts, however painful that transition might be, according to employed and unemployed designers alike.”

I’ve never liked the idea of an ‘expert’ in architecture anyhow. Many firms will pigeon-hole staff into be very efficient at one type of task on a project – it makes sense financially for the firm, and its job security for that person – until that role disappears. Architects are supposed to be the ‘master builder’, aren’t they? That’s what the word stems from. Yet, our modern day landscape of the profession doesn’t have many of those. Knowing how to design, how to build, and how to be a business person all factor in. Get broader – find new mediums, take opportunities that present all different kinds of challenges, and widen your skill set.

Though things appear dim, don’t be fooled. There are jobs to be had, work to be done, and money to be made right now. Don’t let the flashy project images of chic design firms get you short sighted. That design firm path that schools teach you is not the only way to happiness in the design industry. In fact, its quite the opposite at the moment for many. Just as you are being taught to be creative in the studios, you also need to be creative in how you approach work. Take your other skill sets, business smarts, and passions and find ways to express yourself, stay busy, and make money all at the same time. It may take you to places you never imagined once you had your heart set on that big firm job – but it may be all for the better.

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