Located along what was once referred to as Pittsburgh’s “Automobile Row,” a vacant 1915 Ford Motor assembly plant will be repurposed into a research facility for the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). Innovative for its time, the historic Ford Motor Building was one of 31 around the country where Model Ts were mass assembled, sold out of a showroom, and subsequently serviced all in one building. In collaboration with Pitt and Wexford Science and Technology, ZGF is providing design services to give new purpose to this historic building, transforming it into a modern innovation hub that will support researchers in their efforts to solve some of medicine’s toughest challenges.

The design for the 5051 Centre will sensitively restore and preserve the original character of the 207,000 SF, eight-story Ford Building while establishing a distinct yet architecturally respectful 157,170 SF laboratory-tower addition and 325-car parking facility. Clad in precast terracotta, the new addition will complement but not copy the materiality of the Ford Building. The design will insert a green terrace between the Ford Building and the new tower to further demarcate the old and new structures.

On the interior, the design preserves much of the character of the existing structure while sensitively integrating new with old. A “main street” will become a unifying element that joins the existing building and new addition, while providing circulation to all major program elements. The Ford Building’s vertical crane shed—a distinct architectural element where rail cars once entered the building to offload auto components—will be restored and adapted to provide space for collaboration and social engagement. The new atrium will offer an informal gathering place for researchers and will be equipped to house larger events for Pitt and the public. On the upper levels, life science research laboratories are efficiently and flexibly planned to promote collaboration and to accommodate the rapid advancement of immunotherapy research. The Ford Building’s original structure will be left exposed throughout laboratory spaces, providing researchers with a tangible reminder of the building’s history.

Through the transformation of a historic resource into a destination for research and discovery, the project advances the client’s goal of transforming “Automobile Row” into the Pittsburgh Innovation District, envisioned as an environment where advanced research and leading-edge ideas can meet the financial resources and business acumen to cross the chasm to market-viability. 5051 Centre promises a fitting new role for a structure, which once embodied the disruptive technologies brought forth by Henry Ford, to provide the backdrop for today’s scientific breakthroughs.