The ultimate glass house, PPG Place is both billboard and headquarters for a company founded almost on the same spot a century before as Pittsburgh Plate Glass. Today, it is one of the largest glass and chemical manufacturing companies in the world. Occupying five acres carved out of the heart of the eighteenth-century street grid of downtown Pittsburgh, PPG Place is the chief icon among the city's Renaissance II skyscrapers from the 1980s. Profusely pinnacled (231 in all, many glowing at night) and sheathed in one million square feet of PPG's own neutral silver Solarban 550 clear glass, the forty-four-story main tower and its five lower siblings give life—albeit rather stiffly—to Philip Johnson's vision of a glazed Place des Vosges of Paris. The plaza, laid out around an obelisk, is minimalist and austere, in stark contrast to the architectural hodgepodge of neighboring Market Square, an authentic if overrestored relic of the city plan of 1784.
The central tower is entered through a fifty-foot-high lobby paneled entirely in burgundy-colored glass. The glass motif is carried into the elevator cars, which are sheathed in crackled glass. Behind the tower, toward Stanwix Street, stands a large but underused Wintergarden that continues the pointed-arch motif of the surrounding arcades and reaches a height of forty feet, roughly scaled to match the height of the Gothic Revival St. Mary of Mercy Church (1936, William Hutchins) across 3rd Avenue.
Gothic veneer aside, PPG Place is a standard International Style product. Nonetheless it has a contextual quality much appreciated by Pittsburghers, since it echoes both Richardson's courthouse tower ( AL1) a few blocks away on Grant Street and the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh ( AL38), some two miles to the east. Citizens use PPG Place for outdoor concerts and the classic Pittsburgh event: Steeler pregame rallies. The open space was recently given some year-round excitement with an ice-skating rink that converts to a playful and userfriendly multiheaded fountain during warmer weather.