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U.S. Steel Tower and PPG Place: Wonders of Material Engineering

written by: Tarun Goel • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 11/22/2011

The U.S. Steel Tower and PPG Place are two very different buildings to look at in downtown Pittsburgh. However, they do have one thing in common: both structures were created to showcase the materials that they were made of, which make them interesting from an engineering perspective.

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    PPG place is rightly called "the crown jewel of Pittsburgh skyline." You might have seen this building in famous TV series and Hollywood movies like Sudden Death, Inspector Gadget, and Land of the Dead. Both buildings are the best sightseeing spots in downtown Pittsburgh during the night, but not long ago, these two buildings competed with each to become the tallest structure of the state. (The U.S. Steel building was intended from the start to be the tallest structure in the country.)

    U.S. Steel used their then-new product called Corteen for the construction of these buildings. Today taller buildings have emerged in the city, yet these two buildings remain popular because of their unique design and engineering material, and the material used for their construction and energy efficient design continues to make them popular among engineers and architects. After all these buildings have added the "X factor" to the beauty of the city and allowed Hollywood directors to bring an element of thrill to their movies. MNC's like Rockwell International, Ernst and Young, PNC Bank, Sbarro, and Deloitte have remained tenants in these buildings. In the past these buildings have served as home to many giants of the business world.

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    Glass and Steel: The Tale of Two Pittsburgh Buildings

    The two buildings are separated by only a few city blocks, and both uniquely contribute to the beautiful Pittsburgh skyline. Their design as well as the construction materials chosen for the buildings makes them unique in downtown Pittsburgh. The U.S. Steel Tower exhibits Cor-ten steel and PPG Place displays Solarban Twindow glass.

    The U.S. Steel Tower is the older of the two buildings. It was completed in 1970 and is the tallest building in downtown Pittsburgh. The building was designed by Harrison, Abramovitz, and Abbe and is 841 feet high. At the time of its opening, it was the tallest building in the U.S. outside of New York City and Chicago, and is currently the 37th tallest building in the U.S. The building has fireproof columns filled with liquid and was the first building to implement this technology at the time of construction. U.S. Steel wanted to exhibit Cor-ten steel, a new product for the company in 1970. Cor-ten resists corrosion by forming a dark brown oxidation layer over the metal. Cor-ten does not need to be painted or treated after the initial weathering of the material. To showcase the material, the architects placed the steel columns on the exterior of the triangular-shaped building. In total, the tower has 64 floors and contains over 40,000 metric tons of steel. U.S. Steel no longer owns the building, but the company remains one of its largest tenants.

    One PPG Place, part of the PPG Place complex, is also located in Pittsburgh; however, the younger of the two buildings features a different material– glass. In total, PPG Place contains six buildings and covers three city blocks. PPG Place was opened in 1983 and was completed in 1984. The gleaming glass and steel structures, known worldwide for their breathtaking design, were developed by John Burgee Architects with the internationally renowned architect Philip Johnson from New York. One PPG Place is shorter than the U.S. Steel Tower; it is 635 feet tall and has 40 floors.

    PPG Industries (formerly Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company) started the project and is still the largest tenant of the complex. The buildings contain 19,750 pieces of glass and have 231 glass spires. In total, over one million square feet of reflective insulating glass was used in the construction. Nearly one million square feet of neutral silver Solarban 550 clear reflective glass units were used by PPG. The tower is glazed with 19,750 pieces of glass used for the construction of this building, which is a massive figure in itself. The glass pieces are PPG’s Solarban 550 Twindow, which are energy-efficient. Heat is reflected away from the building in the summer and reflected inward in winter. Heat from internal equipment is also collected and recycled throughout the building. PPG Place has been compared to a castle and is said to have been inspired by many architectural significant structures including London's Victoria Tower, H.H. Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse, and Charles Klauder's Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh.

    In a city that is known for its unique and inspiring structures – from inclines to bridges, tunnels to buildings, the U.S. Steel Tower and PPG Place live up to Pittsburgh’s high standards. Both buildings showcase very different materials, and both are showcase pieces of the Pittsburgh skyline.

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    US Steel TowerPPG Place Pittsburgh

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