The building known as 2500 Smallman resulted from a big transformation. The project vision was to redevelop a former 1950s warehouse facility into an 11-unit residential property, with each spacious residence loaded with amenities and collectively forming a communal courtyard. Private patios and terraces allow a connection to the outdoors, encouraging a sense of community while also maintaining personal space.
The building is nestled in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Strip District, a vibrant mix of small and large businesses, sidewalk vendors, and restaurants. The neighborhood is creative and eclectic with a distinctive nature, ample history, and a wealth of opportunities—a place where industrial and wholesale businesses merge with entrepreneurial, retail, and high-tech companies.
In the planning stages, the zoning code permitted for greater density and a taller building, but the developer insisted on a high-quality urban project that captured the spatial benefits of the suburbs while also realizing the amenities of urban living, thus the project was right-sized to its two-story scale, with bays set at 21 ft, 4 in. The project uses 420 tons of structural steel—typically W10´15, W18´40, HSS8´4´3⁄8, and HSS12´6´3⁄8—and some existing steel members were repurposed in other areas.
Early in the process, the structural engineering team adopted a 3D modeling approach, creating a structural model that was instrumental in helping the architectural team deliver the best possible result and set the direction for future projects. Steelwork evaluation and project development were documented through drone video footage, which in turn was used by the property’s realtor to market the building. The design team discussed the project concept and flight pattern with the drone specialist, starting with the central boardwalk “spine.” The drone footage helped the team quickly evaluate the construction progress without having to be on-site, as well as see gaps in the construction and visualize where next activities were needed.
The suspended boardwalk, which serves as a required means of egress, was necessary for creating a column-free motor court, and the east staircase, constructed of heavy steel, became an efficient terminus to the boardwalk. The boardwalk carries a transparent railing system and supports an overhead trellis system providing shading and visual privacy. Curved steel elements create a series of MC18´58 arches over the walkways, and the boardwalk’s overall steel framing, which was assembled with stainless-steel bolts—the project used more than 13,000—became the focal point of the community court and a showpiece for the development as a whole.
Existing steel beams were evaluated for possible salvage and reuse, and some members from the motor court area—approximately 16 tons worth—were salvaged and used to support a portion of the second floor, essentially changing a roof load to a floor load. To create the central, open courtyard, the existing motor court was removed and beams supporting the roof deck load were taken out and set aside. When new steel framing was erected for the boardwalk and two-story residential units, the beams were reintroduced to become floor supports for the second stories of the residential units—essentially cutting the deck span in half by piggybacking the reused beams in a new place.
The lobby celebrates steel with its off-center open steel-framed staircase and steel trim accent as a precursor to the central boardwalk. This steel aesthetic continued with steel interior finish elements like fireplaces, railings, and staircases within each residential unit. On top of the units, HSS4´4´3⁄8 framing hides the residential mechanical equipment on an elevated platform that allows for proper airflow.
One challenge with erecting the steel was that the motor court drive and ramp concrete, which run under the original second-story portion of the building, couldn’t be added until the steel was erected in order to ensure that the crane had enough clearance to get into the middle of the development. The entire work area was limited to the motor court—the crane was also located there—and the team had to erect its way out the building. The original building included a ground-floor slab that was 4 ft above exterior street grade, so the area under the second story was excavated and paved to provide a driveway with at least 13 ft of clearance. The existing warehouse was a single-story building with a second-story mezzanine on the 25th Street end of the building. This second story remained, so the only access was through the future entrance garage door under the mezzanine into what would become the courtyard with the boardwalk above. When the last piece of steel was hung, the erection team drove right out the main garage door.
All of the exterior exposed steel for the boardwalk, a feature louver system, and east stair tower went through a two-minute acid-etch process, creating an aged galvanized appearance that recalls the city’s industrial history. HSS6´6´½ was used to frame the private courtyards, and HSS12´6´3⁄8 members facilitated large triangular clerestories on top of six of the units, allowing light to flood into the living spaces without sacrificing privacy between immediate neighbors.
Now open, 2500 Smallman demonstrates and reinforces the possibilities of steel construction and reuse for its practical and aesthetic solutions. The building, especially the central courtyard, serves as a gallery of sorts for exposed steel assemblies that stand out and blend in at the same time.
For some brief drone footage of the 2500 Smallman construction site, see the Project Extras section at www.modernsteel.com.
Owner: Pitt Ohio, Pittsburgh
General Contractor: Guardian Construction Management, East Pittsburgh
Architect: Desmone Architects, Pittsburgh
Structural Engineer: Whitney Bailey Cox and Magnani, Pittsburgh
Fabricator and Erector: Maccabee Industrial, Inc., Belle Vernon, Pa.
Detailer: Anatomic Iron, North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Bender-Roller: Greiner Industries, Mount Joy, Pa.
Terry Oden (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate with Desmone Architects in Pittsburgh
Don Fleszar (email@example.com) is with Maccabee Industrial, Inc., in Belle Vernon, Pa.