Pillbox

The Carnegie Tech that almost was

2006 marks the 100th anniversary of many important Carnegie Mellon institutions and traditions. The creation of the College of Fine Arts, the founding of The Tartan, and even the construction of the school’s first buildings took place in the year 1906. Although the founding of the Carnegie Technical Schools took place in 1900 with Andrew Carnegie’s proposal to fund the school, it was another five years before the groundbreaking of the campus itself.

In the intervening time, land was acquired from the city of Pittsburgh (30 acres adjoining Schenley Park) and a competition was held between prominent architects to create a design for the campus. The land had originally been a farm, and at one time Joncaire Street and later Woodlawn Avenue — one section of which we now know as Margaret Morrison Street — ran through this property.

Looking at the other competition entries, it is easy to see why Hornbostel’s proposal won the contest. Aside from being the most aesthetically appealing of all the entries, he took great care in designing the layout of the buildings. He took a similar approach to Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia campus, creating a lawn or mall flanked by the various academic buildings. The buildings all had a similar architectural style and adjoined what is today known as Frew Street; the land up to Forbes Avenue had not yet been acquired by the School. A pillared grand entrance was to be located on Frew Street, about where the Hunt Library stands today.

All of the competition entries gave the campus a prominent feature: a tower, usually as a part of the administration building. Strangely, Hornbostel’s original plan did not include the familiar tower of Hamerschlag Hall that we all know today, but rather a small power plant.

One of the original intents of the Schools’ location was to have easy access to the Carnegie Library and Museums across Junction Hollow, and the different competition entries treated this relationship differently. While many simply relied on the bridge just south of campus and near Phipps Conservatory, some proposed bridges stretching across the Hollow to the buildings. In one design, the bridge was simply an extension of the mall.

Henry Hornbostel, then in New York, was the competition’s winner. Before construction, he revised his designs, adding a distinctive tower at the Junction Hollow end of campus. In April 1905, groundbreaking began. By the time the first students came to campus in October 1905, construction was underway on what is now Porter Hall. In Hornbostel’s revised design, a tall tower was to go at the west end of the building, but for whatever reason it was never built. In another revised design from around 1912, a very similar-looking tower was proposed on the current site of the Hunt Library, which was to be the Administration tower.

Another notable feature of 1912’s redesign is the campus’ connection to Forbes Avenue. The obstacle of connecting to this important street was a deep ravine which ran from what is today Newell-Simon Hall up to the tennis courts beside Margaret Morrison. The proposed solution in the new design was an extension of Morewood Avenue into the campus, including a bridge over the ravine. This idea, too, was discarded, and Morewood was left to end at Forbes. Soon a portion of the ravine was filled in, creating another section of the Mall.

Henry Hornbostel decided to move his architectural practice to Pittsburgh. He stayed at Carnegie Tech as the first Dean of Fine Arts. He also designed the new University of Pittsburgh campus (only partially realized), the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial and Hotel Webster Hall, among many other recognizable local and national projects. He continued to design all of the CIT campus’s major buildings, and saw to it that his original purpose for the school’s design was upheld. It is difficult to say what he would think of today’s Carnegie Mellon, but his influence is still felt. When placement of the “Walking to the Sky” statue threatened to break the unity of the Mall he designed, the reasoning behind Hornbostel’s design was used as a primary argument against the artwork’s installation. As a result, the proposed location of “Walking to the Sky” moved from the Mall to the front of the Cut.