Listening session participants hope One Bigelow helps break down silos


Members of the Pitt community said in a series of listening sessions that they believe the One Bigelow project — part of the Campus Master Plan — can be much more than just a building. It could provide “problem-oriented” programming and could be a vehicle to “break up the silos” on campus.

In a session on Aug. 28, the ad hoc committee looking at the project shared a recap of the recurring ideas they heard during the three other community input sessions this month.

Mary Beth McGrew, assistant vice chancellor for Campus Planning, said most attendees came to the sessions expecting to see and talk about the physical building, but the committee intentionally avoided this topic.

“This one was about a new idea, and how do we work inside that idea and what opportunities do we have?” McGrew said.

The committee divided the Pitt community feedback in several themes: education, policies, flexibility, symbolism, benchmarking, modeling complicated systems and the physical building.

Among the many findings in these categories, the Pitt community wanted One Bigelow to help break down University silos to create an open collaborative space, the ad hoc committee found. This collaboration could involve interdisciplinary teaching and learning in addition to collaboration with businesses and government entities.  

While the building would be the new permanent for the School of Computing and Information, the Pitt community told the committee they wanted the space to be flexible and open to creative and collaborative spaces and faculty from different disciplines.

Others wanted the building to be inviting with specific colors designed to reduce stress and promote health. Some wanted the architecture to showcase these themes of collaboration or the interconnectedness of the world and its numerous biological and mechanical systems.

Paul Cohen, founding dean of the School of Computing and Information, said the vision for the project is “to facilitate fundamental and translational research that requires teams of modeling experts and subject matter experts, within and beyond Pitt, to solve consequential problems.”

One Bigelow presents an opportunity for Pitt to “really think about how universities should be functioning in the coming decades,” Cohen said, adding that collaboration is the key to its success.

“Universities have been sort of functioning in pretty much the same way for a real long time now, while the world is changing pretty rapidly,” Cohen said. “And if you want universities to have a more problem-oriented aspect … then collaboration goes without saying, because none of the problems that we are working on today can be solved in silos.”

The location for the project is planned for the parking lot behind the new Oaklander Hotel and between Soldiers and Sailor Memorial Hall and Museum and the University Center.

One Bigelow is still in its early planning phases, so the exact start of the construction is unknown, as is the overall price tag.

However, committee members expect the program concept design phase to last six months; the thematic design and development phase to take 12 months; and the actual construction of the space to take between 24 to 28 months to complete.

Kristin Gusten, senior director of administration for the Office of the Provost said another series of listening sessions are planned for the near future — particularly, sessions centered on undergraduate and graduate student feedback.

“When we started this, we used and heard the term that this is going to be a transformative building, once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Gusten said. “And that's exciting and we want to get it right. And that's why we're doing this. We want to get it right.”

Donovan Harrell is a reporter for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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