• Agnes R. Katz Plaza

    Photos © 2013 Richard A. Stoner

  • Agnes R. Katz Plaza
  • Agnes R. Katz Plaza
  • Agnes R. Katz Plaza
  • Agnes R. Katz Plaza

Agnes R. Katz Plaza

1998 • Pittsburgh, PA • Office of Dan Kiley
  • For one of his last commissions, Kiley created an art-filled public plaza in a former half-acre parking lot in Pittsburgh’s downtown cultural district. The project paired Kiley, then 86, with artist Louise Bourgeois, then 87, and a much younger architect, Michael Graves. The space, on the corner of 7th Street and Penn Avenue, was commissioned for the Theater Square Project (designed by Graves) and is buttressed on two sides by high-rise buildings. The site is owned and managed by the non-profit Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, whose Public Art Advisory Committee selected the Kiley-Bourgeois-Graves team.

    Bourgeois created three pairs of large granite benches sculpted like human eyes – giving the plaza its nickname, “Eyeball Park.” However, the centerpiece of the park is a 25-foot-tall bronze fountain, at the time the artist’s largest outdoor sculpture in the US. Kiley said: “The plaza was designed to allow the sculpture to be the dominant feature.”[1] The fountain’s conjoined terraced cones spout two cascading rivulets, alluding to the city’s hilly topography and the adjacent Allegheny River. The fountain, which was extant before the design of the park, is heated (allowing for year-round use) and set within a deep circular basin.

    Agnes R. Katz Plaza

    Kiley’s design shows the maturation of several of his trademark design elements. The simple plan features a bosque of thirty littleleaf linden trees that frame the park on three sides, creating a feeling of seclusion from the surrounding downtown area. The double-row of trees presents an informal allée that provides shade along the outer edges of the park, a feature of which visitors eagerly take advantage. In typical Kiley fashion, the trees are densely planted, so much so in the case of Katz Plaza that their branches intertwine in a method known as pleaching, to create a solid canopy. Kiley said of his design intent in the use of trees: “They will be approximately 20-30 feet high when installed, with a branching height of about 7 feet. Thus they become an aerial hedge, which allows people to move through the place from end to end freely and create ever-changing views and a sense of mystery to the interior plaza space.”[2] The treetops are meticulously pruned so-that their rectangular form reflects the surrounding architecture. Tree-lined brick sidewalks flow into a 23,000-square-foot expanse paved in dark gray, two-inch-square granite tiles. Twenty-two simple granite benches are placed beneath the tree canopy running perpendicular to the plaza’s edges. Along Penn Avenue, at the plaza’s open edge, five ginkgo trees are planted but allowed to retain their natural form.

    Agnes R. Katz PlazaThe plaza was named posthumously for Agnes R. Katz, mother of Trust Board Member Marshall Katz and his sister Andrea Katz-McCutcheon, who donated $1 million of the $4 million cost to construct the space.

    In a 1999 review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cultural arts critic Patricia Lowry, wrote of the design: “In Kiley and Bourgeois, the Trust’s advisory committee picked two of America’s most eminent artists. Their plaza is a dialogue between their opposite approaches, the rational and the intuitive.” [3]

    In keeping with the Trust’s mission, since the plaza’s official opening in 1999, it has served as the setting for a variety of music and arts events that are held throughout the summer. The centrally located park continues to “keep an eye” on the arts and cultural scene of downtown Pittsburgh.

    1 Patricia Lowry, “One Cool Katz,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, January 27, 1999.
    2 Ibib.
    3 Ibid.

  • Landscape Voice. “Agnes R. Katz Plaza,” http://landscapevoice.com/agnes-r-katz-plaza/.

    Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. “Agnes R. Katz Plaza,” http://www.trustarts.org/visit/facilities/katz/.

    Culture Now. “Art Architecture & History in the Public Realm: Agnes R. Katz Plaza,” http://culturenow.org/entry&permalink=06872&seo=Agnes-R-Katz-Plaza_Michael-Graves-Associates-Louise-Bourgeois-and-Daniel-Urban-Kiley.

    Lowry, Patricia, “One cool Katz,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, January 27, 1999, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19990127&id=ybNRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=im8DAAAAIBAJ&pg=5180,3783181.

    The Cultural Landscape Foundation. “What’s Out There:  Agnes R. Katz,” https://tclf.org/landscapes/agnes-r-katz.

    Kiley, Dan and Jane Amidon. Dan Kiley: The Complete Works of America’s Master Landscape Architect (Boston, New York, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1999), 196-197.

Plan courtesy Peter Morrow Meyer.