But the city has missed the chance to right the long wrong wrought by the parking lot and honor the original vision of the plaza as the formal, symmetrical entrance to Schenley Park. There was, in Sasaki's first iteration of this asymmetrical design, some tribute paid to Beaux Art ideals: The pedestrian path was on axis with its terminal view of the Mary Schenley fountain. But soon the tent was introduced, interrupting that vista and becoming the focal point of the path and the plaza.
The original design was a link from the City Beautiful movement through Paris and Versailles to ancient Rome. Oakland was where the City Beautiful movement came to roost in Pittsburgh, and here was a chance to strengthen ties to the long tradition of Western design in the civic and cultural heart of our city. We chose not to do that.
Maybe it wasn't possible to do that and accommodate all the program called for. The classical ideals of the City Beautiful movement were always a difficult overlay on Pittsburgh's hilly terrain, with its limited flatlands. And formalism may seem a foreign dialect, and a dead language to some, in these casual times. The plaza and its tent, which provides shelter, shade and social space, certainly are honest expressions of today's values.
In aesthetic terms, you can't disagree. Functionally, though, I think that you have to credit the design. The new place is pretty welcoming, and Pittsburgh can use all of the welcoming public spaces that it can get. To visitors to Oakland, especially first-time visitors, the plaza is impressive, particularly as it effortlessly extends the grass that surrounds the Cathedral of Learning. Schenley Plaza doesn't belong to Pitt, but it symbolizes and manifests the idea that Pitt has a real campus. That has to be a good thing both for the university and for the city.
Kudos to the P-G, by the way, for continuing to showcase the writing of an architecture critic!