Janssen & Cocken
Mellon Institute, north elevation
rendering (ca. 1931)

Mellon Institute

Janssen & Cocken

Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Mellon Institute for Industrial Research merged in 1967 to form Carnegie Mellon University. Mellon Institute was among the benefactions of Andrew Mellon. When Mellon served as Secretary of the Treasury of the U.S. during the 1920s and early 1930s, he occupied the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., a building with a monumental ionic colonnade. Mellon specified a building with similar qualities for Pittsburgh, arguing that the architecture would evoke the origins of science and embody an ageless simplicity appropriate to a setting for the practice of modern science.

In designing Mellon Institute the most unusual problem was to produce a monumental exterior which Mr. Mellon was particularly anxious to have, and at the same time preserve an absolutely practical laboratory building. The requirements of the building made necessary about six and one-half million cubic feet, which is the equivalent of a very large office building...Another wish of Mr. Mellon's was to have the building low and horizontal in proportion, the very opposite of a high building. In order to design a low building it was necessary to go down into the ground three very high stories so that the appearance from the outside world would be that of a monument. The proportions of the three street facades is very nearly the same as the long lateral facade of the Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens...To start with we thought that this was a fine precedent. (Janssen & Cocken 1936)

A second important influence may have been the Alte Museum in Berlin by Carl Friedrich Schinkel, which also has a monumental ionic colonnade. This building's cross-axis plan may have generated a similar plan at Mellon Institute.

Mellon Institute's private face is largely one of utilitarian laboratories. Its public face, however, consists of four neoclassical facades composed of sixty-two monolithic columns (the proposed statuary was never realized). Detached from the rest of the Carnegie Tech campus, Mellon Institute's exterior enables it to play a key public role among the monumental buildings of Pittsburgh's Oakland district.

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A Campus Renewed