AIP students reimagine uses for a former Allentown hardware building
Even though the former Bud’s Hardware on Warrington Avenue has been closed for some time, the building has recently inspired a great deal of creativity—and it’s about to inspire even more. A new business tenant and new purpose are coming to the space, with doors scheduled to open in late-April or early-May.
Coinciding with this new project’s start is another project’s end, which was celebrated on Friday evening at a community gathering and gallery presentation.
The presentation was the climax of the Urban Studio Project, a hands-on learning experience for a select number of Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP) students. As their senior project, and under the tutelage of AIP faculty member Lisa Whitney, 14 young designers devoted a portion of their final academic quarter to making renovation recommendations for repurposing the building.
In January, students came out to the building to take measurements and question local liaisons on matters like community needs and neighborhood appeal, history and demographics. From there, each of ten Advanced Commercial Design students and four Environmental Design students went on to draft their individual proposals, presented at Friday night’s gathering.
Among the interior redesign recommendations were a sustainable urban grocery store (by student Dakota Ank); a 24/7 internet café (Chelsea Aklberti); and community support centers for kids ages 3-8 (Kim Zickefoose) and for middle and high school students (Kendall Curtis).
Catering to more adult interests were recommendations for a wine bar/art gallery (Jordan Rain), a coffeehouse (Danielle Vassallo) and a spot for sushi (Jon Meyers).
Examining these, and other, presentation boards, property manager Joe Calloway, of RE-360, repeatedly said one word: “Awesome.”
Mr. Calloway said he was amazed by the students’ work and wished he could see all of their visions come to life in Allentown. But, as far as renovations to the old hardware building, only one new idea can come to the area, though it’ll likely bring with it many others.
“We see new life coming here, creating a high-traffic hub with lots of important people dribbling in and out,” said Josh Lucas, whose business will soon take root in the building.
Those important people include the list of approximately ten freelance media producers, artists, techies and nonprofit directors already signed up to occupy desks in Mr. Lucas’ “co-working” site, best compared to a business incubator.
For $150 a month, individuals will be able to rent a desk in the space, which will be renamed The Hard-Ware Store and will feature a podcast station and a full recording studio in the basement. Daily rates will also be available for those who are interested in limited-time use of amenities such as a forthcoming green-screen.
In addition to providing access to work space and cutting-edge tech utilities, Mr. Lucas foresees his The Hard-Ware Store bringing together industry genius and creating fresh, interesting relationships between any combination of individuals, businesses and nonprofits.
“Artists, tech guys (and gals) and nonprofits will come together and learn from each other,” Mr. Lucas asserted. “There’ll be countless networking possibilities and opportunities for collaboration, help and growth.”
The chance to pool, and interact, with others is what spurred visual effects artist Jonathon Titus to register for a desk. Mr. Titus explained he typically works from home, and the impending “co-working” site appealed to him because it promised to expose him to other like-minded individuals as well as simply get him out of the house and into a social setting.
But before Mr. Titus, or anyone else, can take his seat, the building will be renovated and redesigned. Allentown CDC board member and professional designer Greg Panza was tasked to prepare a design plan, with renovations to be funded by grant money distributed through the Mt. Washington CDC.
While it is Mr. Panza’s plan that will be used in the redesign, Mr. Lucas said he also hopes to use several of the AIP students’ suggestions in the space.
“There are so many great ideas on these boards,” said Mr. Lucas. “We’ll definitely explore the design cues to see what we can pull out and incorporate into the new design.”
AIP student Tony Santercangelo’s presentation provided a cue Mr. Lucas picked up on.
Mr. Lucas said he has tentatively asked Mr. Santercangelo to design window display units for him. The units, Mr. Santercangelo explained, would be shelf-like and tiered, constructed of steel and sheet metal in a configuration allowing ample exhibit and added security.
Interest was also expressed in Mr. Santercangelo’s environmental designs, which called for updated fencing in the area. Using cobblestone bedding inspired by the historic German influence in the area, and offering lighting and paneling alternatives, Mr. Santercangelo’s recommendations were well-received by community members in attendance, including Allentown CDC vice president Judy Hackel, who said such fencing is exactly what Allentown needs.
Another thing Allentown needs, according to AIP student Lauren Eicher, is more approachable navigation and asset guidance. Ms. Eicher’s presentation proposed the creation of a guidebook listing Allentown businesses and attractions, and mapping them according to business/attraction designations.
Ms. Eicher further proposed using correlation stickers in the windows of included businesses and mentioned advertisement, promotion and coupon opportunities in the publication, which she plans to pitch to area resources in the near future.
When asked how she felt about the possibility of Mr. Santercangelo’s and Ms. Eicher’s ideas taking real form in Allentown, Ms. Whitney said, “I’m elated.
“This project is about bringing design assistance to a place that needs it, and bringing design experience to the students,” she continued. “When someone picks up on a student idea, it reminds us why we do this.”