In Modernized Airport, Less Anxiety and More Inspiration

Artist-designed spaces, furniture explored for new terminal

By Alyson Walls

Published January 6, 2020

Read Time: 4 mins


Picture frazzled travelers hurrying through airport security with dozens of random items scattered around a dingy, disorganized checkpoint area.

Now imagine that, once through security, passengers find themselves awed and calmed in Pittsburgh International Airport’s new artistic “recompose” area.

There, while re-tying shoes, buckling belts and gathering up carry-on items, they sit on beautiful, hand-carved benches made from local hardwood. They rest against pillows upholstered in brightly patterned fabrics. They gaze up at colorful paintings or architectural ceramic tiles that subtly soothe stress levels. In the background, a local musician plays a piano while soft light filters in geometric shapes from wall sconces made of hand-forged metal.

These types of spaces filled with custom furniture, artwork and fixtures that convey a sense of the Pittsburgh region are among the possibilities designers are exploring for the airport’s Terminal Modernization Program (TMP).

In December, members of the architectural team designing the new terminal and multi-modal complex set to open in 2023 toured the studios of a local craft business accelerator to meet artists, furniture designers and small-batch manufacturers. They wanted to see, touch and experience these possibilities in real life.

Kim Brown and Abbie Howard, interior design associates with Gensler, learn about local artist-designed products during a tour of Monmade Studios with Adam Kenny, director. (Photo by Alyson Walls)

Airport Arts and Culture Manager Rachel Rearick, who coordinated the tour of Monmade and Radiant Hall studios in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, said infusing local artwork and crafts into the TMP has been a goal from the beginning – and it’s one that the design team has enthusiastically embraced.

“In Arts and Culture Best Practice group sessions, we identified locally made artisan products as an important integration for the TMP,” Rearick said. “As we work toward figuring out what furniture and fixtures we would like to see in the terminal, we need to get a sense of what’s being produced regionally and what’s appropriate.”

The billion-dollar Terminal Modernization Program currently includes a budget of about $3.1 million for incorporating artist-made building materials, façade enhancements in the parking garage and integrated or permanent artwork at the TSA checkpoint, international arrivals area, entrance roadway walls and bridges, meet and greet plazas and other areas.

While no specific artists or products were selected during the tour, the visit served as an opportunity to introduce the TMP interiors team – Abbie Howard and Kim Brown with design and architecture firm Gensler – to the talented artisans who call Pittsburgh home.

“We’re interested in learning how specific artwork might be applied to millwork, signage and other features in the new terminal and multi-modal complex,” said Brown.

The studios, located in a former Westinghouse Electric factory, house a network of regional craft businesses, maker enterprises, design-build shops and entrepreneurial artists. The initiative aims to create a vibrant craft manufacturing ecosystem that revitalizes economically depressed areas and produces quality jobs.

Monmade officials introduced the airport team to artists that included Nathan Lucas and Jason Boone of furniture company Urban Tree, Nick Volpe with Temper and Grit Metalworking, painter Mia Tarducci, and several others specializing in textiles, ceramics and other products.

Andrew Jowdy Collins of Jowdy Contemporary Ceramics shows off some of his work to Abbie Howard, interior design associate with Gensler. (Photo by Alyson Walls)

The artists boast impressive resumes and portfolios, including work produced for Google, Nordstrom, Tryp Hotel, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and other public spaces, as well as private commissions.

Tarducci, whose work includes several series’ of large abstract landscape paintings as well as an oil work displayed in the airport last year, said she liked working in the airport space.

“I like challenges and working on different projects … there are so many things you can do to brighten up traditionally sterile public spaces,” she said.

Volpe, who is currently designing custom metal range hoods for restaurants, metal railings and light fixtures, agreed.

“I try not to limit myself … I can work on my own or with architects on a design team,” he said. “Being selected for the airport project would be exciting.”

Rearick called the art studio tour informative, rewarding and fun for the airport and the TMP team.

“Pittsburgh has a very strong craft community that is making a mark nationally and globally,” she said. “Being aware of that, we felt it was imperative to reflect the flair of our region with craft work like this.”

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