The Garden

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The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA

Materials & Dimensions:
Architectural debris from the site’s burned-down 19th century factory, stones from the geological region, plants native to an urban old-field ecology
120 feet wide x 80 feet deep

The site was an empty lot adjacent to The Mattress Factory. In 1963, a paper factory had burned down there. The design study lasted from 1986 to 1990, when I built the model. Construction began in 1992 and was completed in 1997.

This is a permanent sculptural garden for The Mattress Factory. I designed it to uncover the urban and natural history of the site and to reveal its physical memory. All the boundaries and excavated layers are based on this. The three levels of the garden are artifacts of the former factory’s construction. The materials were primarily the architectural debris from the19th century factory, which burned down there in 1963. All the boulders used were selected from the geological region. The plants are indigenous and are part of the urban old field ecology of this type of disturbed site. The trees on the boulders were found in that position and transferred with the boulders to the site. The stone wall is built with the same stone in the same style as the old basements in this area, with the rough side that is normally built into the surrounding earth facing into the garden. The site design evolved with the excavation of the site. For example, the basement is an excavation of the real basement, but the stairwell anteroom & doorway are fabrications; the brick retaining wall is an artifact from the original factory, but the window wall is a fabrication from brick salvaged during the basement excavation. Embedded in various locations in the garden are ‘Brownie’-sized black and white photographs made in glass –enameled steel; two are records of the factory fire and one is an ambiguous playful event that occurred on Sampsonia Way in the 1940’s.

The design inspiration came from the area geology, the plants & cycles in an urban old field (which this site was.), the local urban history made available by Mary Marasti a woman who had lived on the street for over 70 years (her photo album from 1935 through 1970), the architectural remains of the factory that burnt on the site, my own numerous and long visits over a period of years at different seasons, and the Perry Hill District above the neighborhood of the Mattress Factory, where the ruined foundations of homes of a Slavic neighborhood razed for urban redevelopment when Hwy 279 was built still lie. The redevelopment never materialized.