Project Management Institute

An architect's perspective

October 1991


The design mandate for The Carnegie Science Center was to provide superior exhibition space, a state-of-the-art planetarium, an OMNIMAX® Theater component, an auditorium and all necessary ancillary spaces to support these functions. These had to be expressed in an intriguing architectural statement which respected the site and recognized established budget constraints.

After visiting several science centers, where the exhibit space is described as a black box, two factors began to influence our design of this extreme environment:Need for a sense of orientation for the user and a focal point that allows one to take advantage of available natural vistas.

The black box was preserved, however it was modified by window openings which slanted inward and took on a dynamic triangular shape. These became suggestions rather than overpowering views. They became an exhibit unto themselves. The intent was not to impact on the main event, but instead to offer an alternative once the scientific exhibit had been realized. Viewers were able to look upon their city date it to their science center, and move with confidence to the next event.

I found the architect's answer to one set of conflicting needs most interesting. On the one hand, the exhibit designers espouse the “black box” theory in which they want to control the exhibit space entirely, including elimination of outside light. On the other hand, we have arguably the most beautiful site on the science center circuit-three mighty rivers converging at our doorstep, the spectacular Golden Triangle of downtown Pittsburgh, etc.

The building is not a strict application of form following function. There is no doubt that the uses influenced and helped generate the ultimate expression. It is important, however, to recognize the variety of shapes employed to express the final form; and the difference between shape and form is most easily understood if one realizes that the dancer has shape, the dance has form. In architecture, the component parts have shapes, but the entire composition is a dynamic form where form and content occur simultaneously.

An intriguing element of the design is the cautious way it is married to the landscape. This visual and physical extension of building is accomplished in several rather dramatic ways. At the entry level, a bridge reaches out to a circular plaza, which acts as a ceremonial gathering place as one makes the transition from outside to inside.

The architect's answer was to provide maximum windows in the public lobby spaces and “eyebrows” or small triangular windows elsewhere in the bulding, admitting a tantalizing view but not hampering the black boxes.

Once inside the building, open areas make available the river, the city, and the terraces below. The restaurant extends out beyond its full-height glass walls to a dining terrace which, in turn, opens onto a broad, gently sloping lawn. The lawn is designed to accommodate periodic summer exhibitions, which extend the space out to the park area. Entries at the lowest level which permit control, and allow these exhibits to function independently, are also used for the submarine exhibit.

In addition to this manipulation of contoured and developed land, there existed on the site an underground tunnel below the perimeter street. This links the adjacent supplementary parking to a pedestrian spine from the Three Rivers Stadium so that one can walk uninterrupted onto a walk system and into the science center. The building is not only visually enticing, but also has tentacles that subtly embrace the perimeter and extend its pervasive influence.

One of the most intriguing solutions is the first level of exhibits, where the planetarium, the Railroad Exhibit, the Food Exhibit, and access to the auditorium all occur. This very active floor will easily handle large crowds since the opportunity for movement can be diversified. As people wait to enter the planetarium, the exhibits act as a modifier and absorber; likewise, when the Railroad Exhibit has a huge impact during the holiday season, the adjacent exhibits and the entry to the planetarium act as supplementary elements. Programs that interact with the exhibits may require lecture space in the auditorium which can be approached from either stair or ramp off this same floor. This design problem addressed the program and required intense interaction with staff.

The three major components, the OMNIMAX® Theater, the planetarium, auditorium space and the exhibit space are juxtaposed and linked—a strong circulation element which repeats and overlaps, establishing a relationship with these various building parts. The most dominant element in the design is the circulating ramp which offers the user several opportunities. You can choose to take the elevator to the top floor and descend the ramp, exhibit level by exhibit level, or start from the lowest exhibit and by circulating floor to ramp to floor, experiencing the entire ambiance. Interrupting the ramp area is a lounge and viewing platform; one is enclosed, the other is an open terrace, that offers relief from the intense exhibit studies. The ramps are not only efflclent movers of people, but offer startling views of the river and the west side of the city.

A lobby overlooks the OMNIMAX® exhibit which is approached through a circular stair platform that echoes the large circular glass areas of the ramp. These two elements act as point and counterpoint; one to the east, the other to the west, and help establish the open and dramatic quality of the exterior and interior spaces.

Also recognized within the entire composition is a process of circulation which allows one to discover special corners, niches and views. These constitute magic places and unique compositions act as cogent proof that a building of elegance may offer a statement towards the world of art; the drive was to have this building draw attention to that possibility.The idea is to create a system which is available to the user; structural, functional, aesthetic. The interpretation can be as flexible and imaginative as the users wish, limited only by their own capabilities.


Tasso Katselas’ work has been performed in nine states and five foreign countries. Individual buildings comprise an important segment of projects; however, major achievement has been in urban redevelopment projects, master planning for educational facilities, and airport and institutional facility planning, with specific emphasis on buildings within these developed complexes.

He has won numerous design awards. The most notable being acclaimed as a finalist in the National Competition for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.

His work has been shown in exhibits throughout the United States, and his projects and lectures have been published nationally and internationally. Most recently, he received Architectural Record's Award of Design Excellence.

Tasso Katselas began his professional education in the Engineering and Architectural Schools of Carnegie Institute of Technology. After graduation, he worked for various firms in Pittsburgh. He received a Master of Architecture degree in 1953 and then returned to Pittsburgh 1956 from the West Coast to begin his own practice.

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