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evolveEA’s, Christine Mondor talks p4 with Downstream

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 p4 Interview: Christine Mondor, AIA, LEED AP

p4 Interview: Christine Mondor, AIA, LEED AP

evolveEA’s Hill District Centre Avenue Corridor Design Plan | Photo courtesy of evolveEA

As I walked down Bryant Street to meet Christine Mondor at Tazza D’oro, I recalled walking the same block more than a decade ago with residents of the local community organization.  Despite being on of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, Highland Park’s business district was floundering, but they were hopeful that a proposed three-story mixed-use building would provide a much-needed spark.

That project stalled in the midst of a community-wide debate about the historical significance of a modest building on the corner of Bryant and North St. Clair Streets.  Preserving and integrating it into a new development would be more expensive and complicated than demolishing it.  A dry cleaner occupied the first floor and basement – where moldy, fibrous stalagmites dangled from the ceiling.  While the debate lingered, the business owner died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

p4 Pittsburgh, a joint-effort between the City of Pittsburgh and the Heinz Endowments, provides a framework to guide citywide development in ways that are inclusive, sustainable and innovative.  p4 is organized around four themes: People, Planet, Place and Performance.  The initiative includes annual conferences along with projects geared towards implementing p4’s vision for Pittsburgh’s future. One such project referred to in this interview – the p4 Performance Measures – is a scorecard for how well prospective development projects align with p4 goals.

When the building was eventually determined to be a contributing historic structure, it put an end to the both the debate and the proposed building.  Since then, the dry cleaner building has been handsomely restored, and is now anchored by a popular Belgian restaurant.  A new three-story building was designed and built just a few parcels away from the original location, and various storefronts are occupied with shops and restaurants.

So much of what we call community development can be seen on this one block. Vacancies, tired-looking buildings and suboptimal market conditions clashed with community process and historic preservation, until the community, ever vigilant, read the changing economic tides and led Bryant Street to vibrant place it’s become.

I wanted this interview to address to the architectural implications of p4 Pittsburgh, while keeping p4’s broader goals (towards People, Planet, Place and Performance) in mind. In my opinion, few can speak to this as well as Christine Mondor.  I was relieved when she agreed to the interview, as I had no backup plan.

Christine and her husband, Marc Mondor, founded evolveEA (short for “environment :: architecture”), a design practice that lies at the “intersection of sustainability and the built environment.”  To me, “intersection” is the key word there, as evolveEA’s focus on sustainability is not limited to individual projects, but extends to the very systems that produce buildings, infrastructure and landscapes.  The environment – which to evolveEA is as much social and economic as it is physical – and the systems that shape our relationship to it were recurring themes through our conversation.  Christine is an architect, a member of Pittsburgh’s City Planning Commission and a lead member of the p4 Technical Teams. Continue reading.

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