p4: What Will Pittsburgh’s Future Look Like?

People, Planet, Place, Performance

By AIA Pittsburgh Posted on April 27, 2018

Cities are at the vanguard of new ideas and development. So what is the future of our city? What kind of city and region do we want? How do we make that future inclusive for all area residents?

These were the key questions for the third annual p4 Conference – People, Planet, Place, Performance – held this Wednesday and Thursday at the David Lawrence Convention Center. Almost 800 attendees came together to take stock of developments and advancements happening in the Pittsburgh area, and consider what technologies – like advanced manufacturing and autonomous vehicles – could mean for employment, gentrification, the built environment, equality, and the very social fabric of our region. The event sought to learn from other cities in the US and the world that are facing similar challenges.

Architects at p4

“It’s important for architects to attend an event like this”, said Vivian Loftness, FAIA, Professor and former Head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, who attended the conference along with nearly a dozen local architects. “You’ve got the political and foundation leadership of the city, plus a broader array of decision-makers, all sharing their vision and expertise on how our city can have a more sustainable future.

“On the one hand it is an outstanding room full of potential clients. On the other it is important for design professionals to embrace the full definition of sustainability, which includes social as well as environment concerns. The four Ps are a reminder of how important it is for us to be able to answer these questions as architects.”

Speakers came from Pittsburgh and across the country and included mayors, community activists, urban planners and representatives of Brookings Metropolitan Program, C40 Cities, CREATE Lab, the Aspen Institute, CMU’s Robotics Institute, and many others. Notably, more than 20% of speakers on the main conference day were architects or urban designers, sharing innovations and experiences in making communities better.

Damon Rich of Hector spoke about Newark, NJ, and of the importance of making public policy visible. Architects, he said, can play a role much earlier in the shaping of projects, and can help communities understand what is needed to build support for a neighborhood or city project.

Liz Ogbu of Studio O advocated for more living spaces where all people are valued, and showed examples of community engagement in Hunter’s Point, a former industrial part of San Francisco. She noted how people react to their environments, good or bad, and that architects and urban designers have a responsibility to create and shape spaces that let people thrive.

Liz Ogbu of Studio O

John Bela of Gehl Partners spoke about urban innovation and radical new formulations of social space. He emphasized the importance of putting people first in the design of civic spaces, transportation and buildings.

Others speakers emphasized that successful cities will be those that in every way support the health and development of its people, like designing buildings and spaces that give children a healthy start. “Today’s focus on cities is an opportunity to re-think what we got wrong in the past,” said Seth Schulz of C40 Cities, “and develop new models of development and community.”

As Pittsburgh continues to emerge as one of the country’s centers of innovation – a shift from Rust Belt to Brain Belt according to Bruce Katz of Brookings Institute – there is a growing role for architects and designers to help shape the opportunities around our city.


If you want to get involved influencing the discussion about development, affordable housing, and other issues that touch the built environment in our region, AIA Pittsburgh offers a number of committees and activities as a way of getting the collective voice of architects heard. Contact Natalie Grandinetti for more info.

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One Response to p4: What Will Pittsburgh’s Future Look Like?

  1. P4 (People Planet Place Performance) gives architects a better understanding of social economic and environmental trends affecting the practice of architecture. “If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem” One way architects can improve our role and relevance besides being involved is to build leadership within their firms that that connect to initiatives such as P4. But P4 is an aspiration not a solution. For P4 to be effective we need to take it the table with our stakeholders and clients. It has to be something we just do by our professional nature. Its difficult to take the time in our rapid pace of practice but we must!

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