The towering Christmas tree and ice rink at PPG Place have become so much a part of Downtown Pittsburgh’s holiday celebration that it’s easy to forget how stark this space was when the complex of six glass buildings opened in 1984.
Anchored by a single rose granite obelisk, the elegant plaza was often empty. Only a few brave souls ate their brown-bag lunches at the base of the obelisk. After the Hillman Company bought PPG Place in 1999, the owners decided to animate the plaza by installing an ice rink and a fountain.
In December of 2001, the ice skating rink was unveiled and opened to the public with great fanfare. Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano performed and the day ended with a Zambelli fireworks display.
The rink typically opens in November and closes at the end of February. Designed by IKM, this recreational space measures 104 feet by 104 feet and has an ice surface of 9,586 square feet, larger than the rink in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
In 2002, a computer-controlled fountain that uses recycled water opened in the plaza. Additional landscaping softened the space. Even Philip Johnson, the famous architect who designed the buildings and plaza with John Burgee, approved of the additions.
In 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette architecture critic Patricia Lowry observed that these additions made PPG Place “a better neighbor, where children in bathing suits flirt with the water columns of the fountain, office workers lunch under broad market umbrellas and skaters take on a warm glow in the lights of a 65-foot Christmas tree — and all are reflected in the faceted glass walls of this giant fun-house mirror of a building.’’