Carrie Furnace Public Park

entering carrie furnace

Entering Carrie Furnace in Real life

Problem Statement

I, as well as five classmates, presented to Rivers of Steel, a non-profit, a plan for transforming what is currently a closed, tour-only, inactive iron furnace into a public park that has a historical presence. Our overarching thesis for operating within Carrie was that of respect and restraint; we focused on subtly integrating our designs into the furnace.

A museum establishes a clear threshold for being inside versus outside, separating the modern world from Carrie. As I designed how visitors moved through the museum and around the park, I focused on framing views of Carrie in order to maximize the awe one will feel when experiencing the furnace. Ensuring visitors' exposure to Carrie is positive and meaningful will encourage them to return, increasing the popularity of the park.

Questions I Addressed:

  • How does knowledge and experience inform the sense of a place?

  • How to maximize the positive experience a person can have in an environment?

  • How to implement designs informed by a guiding theme?

  • How to use wayfinding to guide people through a space?

 

WHAT IS CARRIE FURNACE?

Carrie Furnace, which produced pig-iron (an essential material for creating steel), is significant as it is the only pre-World War II era iron furnace left in the Pittsburgh region. For a region which is synonymous with the American Steel Industry, the importance of keeping Carrie relevant to Pittsburgh shouldn't be understated.

The massive furnace triggers a sense of the mathematical sublime similar to that which one experiences in response to the expansiveness of nature. Understanding the almost incomprehensible scale at which Carrie produced while standing next to a nearly 100 foot behemoth of the iron industry induces respect and humility.

Research

Each team member being tasked with becoming an expert on a specific area, I focused on the historical context that surrounded Carrie Furnace during the steel industry’s rise and fall and the unions which defined the workforce in that era. This stage of initial research heavily influenced how we decided to approach transforming Carrie Furnace into a public park.

Why make a museum?

The current entrance to Carrie Furnace is a gravel area outside two large warehouses which dumps visitors into a disorienting location in which the two furnaces are out of view. A museum provides a clear entrance into the park, resulting in a far smoother experience. Furthermore, the need for educating visitors about Carrie and the American Steel Industry is crucial to increasing the knowledge and appreciation for the furnace.

Frame theory

I sought to control how Carrie was viewed and experienced in order to maximize the impact of Carrie’s beauty on visitors or those passing through the park. In order to create "framed views" of Carrie, I intentionally concealed or provided competing experiences in order to encourage certain behaviors.

Museum Light

After using storyboards to map out how Carrie would be experienced by visitors, I focused on concealing the view of the furnace upon exiting one's car and revealing the furnace to bikers traveling around Carrie. The bend in the bike path forces bikers to slow down, leaving more time for them to absorb the magnificence of Carrie while considering stopping to visit.

Museum Earth: P1

An earth berm form was easier to integrate into the current landscape surrounding Carrie and Carrie itself, the museum being placed directly next to the retaining wall. Furthermore, while inside the park, the reduced presence of the museum will allow visitors to fully appreciate Carrie without distraction. The organic shape of the earth berm also made framing the view of Carrie for a visitor easier to design than with "Museum Light".

Museum Earth: P2

My final model in Sketchup incorporated my decision to split the bike path and allow bikers to enter and travel through Carrie itself. By immersing bikers into the furnace grounds while keeping them apart from the majority of foot traffic, transit bikers will be more intrigued with Carrie and more likely to spend time in the park.

Final Museum

Exterior

An earth berm easily blends into the nature surrounding the park and acts as the subordinate object to Carrie from outside, as well as inside the park. Also, juxtaposing an earth berm next to an environmentally harmful furnace helps prime visitors for the educational content inside which illustrates pollution and its negative effects.

I nestled the museum next to the retaining wall which already exists in Carrie in order to decrease the presence of the berm. The artificiality of the fence next to the museum is reduced by growing out the fence with vines and other greenery, matching the earth berm’s ratio of natural and artificial elements.

Interior

The interior museum experience was based around four different maps at four different scales which told the story of Pittsburgh steel with an interactive timeline and animated projections. Resource and immigrant flow in the US are shown on a map of the US, growth of factories, population fluctuation, and pollution are shown a map of Pittsburgh, social inequality and union activity are addressed on a map of Braddock (a quintessential steel community), and finally, the process of creating pig-iron is shown on a map of Carrie itself.

There is also a small exhibit about steel communities using Braddock as a case study, including a screening room entirely dedicated to showing how a local filmmaker, Tony Buba, documented the Braddock community. The museum also functions as a community hub with current events and offered classes at Carrie Furnace being posted on the bulletin board.

Fly-Throughs

Showing the intended interaction with the space I designed provides a more accurate view of what a typical experience would be.

Museum Exit

I designed the interior of the museum to separate the educational experience of the exhibits and the sensory experience of viewing Carrie in order to preserve the effect of "the reveal" upon exiting the museum. Due to the curvature of the museum, it's impossible to experience both at the same time; the benches help guide visitors towards the exit.

Upper Bike Path

Bikers visiting or passing through Carrie will be treated to this raised unobstructed view of the furnaces, encouraging cycling traffic through the park instead of around it.

Entrance on Road

As the entrance for cars to Carrie is at elevation, hiding the view of Carrie is unrealistic, although the Cowper stoves are somewhat hidden by the two warehouses. I intentionally only designated 33 parking spots, three being handicapped, all of them in single file in order to reduce the weight and visual blockiness of parked cars.

Parking Lot to Museum

I intentionally forced visitors to walk 270 feet, roughly a one minute walk, in order to emphasize the separation of the modern world of cars from Carrie. Trees deprive visitors of the view of Carrie as they walk to the museum in order to reinforce the awe of the reveal the curvature of the fence guiding visitors and hiding their cars from sight once in front of the museum.

Entrance on Bike Path

Similarly to those arriving by car, those biking towards the museum know Carrie is in the distance; trees aren't large enough to hide the view without being too imposing. Still, the closer bikers are to Carrie, the more obscured their sight-line is. By forcing bikers to slow down with a slight curve, their attention is drawn to the furnace that is revealed to them and less towards the alternate bike path around Carrie. The widening of the path affords stopping and slowing down for a better view of the furnace. Bike racks are in abundant supply, allowing bikers to easily stop and enter the park.

Lower Bike Path

Carrie, similar to many other public parks, will have closing hours necessitating the closure of the upper bike path, however, providing an alternate route keeps the bike traffic through the neighborhood alive during off hours. Connecting surrounding bike trails with this lower bike path will also be a more direct path for commuters; there are fewer curves and elevation changes on the lower bike path. Even while on this path, the presence of Carrie can still be felt, encouraging bikers to explore further.

What I Learned:

  • Ways to maximize the experience of a user in a space

  • How to effectively design with a heuristic to guide decision-making

  • Techniques for influencing peoples’ actions through spacial design

  • How to balance designing and presenting a concept with real-life restrictions

 

References