Masterminded by the visionary landscape architect John O. Simonds, Mellon Square, in Pittsburgh, emerged in 1955 as the urban oasis downtown denizens sorely needed. Encompassing an entire city block, the 1.37-acre garden was the first to be constructed over a parking garage. “Pittsburgh then was notoriously smoky, gridlocked, and flood-prone,” says Susan Rademacher, a curator at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, the organization that spearheaded the land’s recent $10 million restoration, and author of Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014). “Downtown had zero designed public space, and Mellon Square was excitedly welcomed as a harbinger of wholesale change for the better.”
Designed to be viewed at street level and via vantage points from the surrounding skyscrapers, the plaza features a distinctive triangular paving pattern of multitoned terrazzo, lush plants, ample seating, and an enormous fountain.
Mellon Square gradually fell into disrepair—waterproofing deteriorated, greenery died, surfaces succumbed to wear and tear—but it remained a treasured destination. The revitalized design, which broke ground in 2011 and opened in 2014, returned the space to its original luster. “Simonds’s emphasis on the design of experiences provided a humanizing adjustment to modernist landscape architecture,” Rademacher says. “In planning, we faced the challenge of contemporary expectations of public space when Mellon Square was designed as a quiet oasis.”