New glass-covered UPMC hospital will tower over Fifth Avenue

Rendering of hospital from Schenley Park

A new hospital that UPMC first proposed in 2018 for the former Children’s Hospital site along Fifth Avenue is inching closer to a reality. The four-year construction project could start as early as this summer.

UPMC and HGA, the Minnesota-based design firm working on the Oakland project, gave the Pittsburgh Planning Commission a briefing March 8 on the 17-story hospital it hopes to build in front of UPMC Presbyterian at the corner of Fifth Avenue and DeSoto Street.

The glass-enclosed, 287-foot structure would likely be the second tallest building in Oakland, after the 535-foot-tall Cathedral of Learning. In comparison, Litchfield Tower B, the tallest of the three Towers, is 224 feet.

“The building scale aligns to the larger buildings on campus and is shaped to open up and allow visibility to the central tower of the existing hospital (Presbyterian) and really becomes a new beacon on the skyline for this area,” said Steven Vebber of HGA.

The Oakland facility — billed as a center for heart and transplant cases, as well as other clinical services — is one of three hospitals UPMC first announced in 2018. The others are a new cancer treatment facility in Shadyside at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Hospital in Uptown, near Mercy Hospital, which is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Representatives from UPMC and HGA detailed the architectural aspects of the new hospital along with energy and water use, stormwater plans, open spaces, tree canopy, bird safety, public art, neighborhood enhancement and mobility. Find the presentation here.

The 636-bed facility would have all private rooms. Richard Altmeyer, vice president of project development and construction at UPMC, told the commissioners the new building will not increase overall bed capacity in Oakland.

“Although UPMC Presby is certainly UPMC’s flagship facility where some of the finest care in the world is provided, it lacks private patient rooms, which is the standard today in health care facilities,” he said.

Overall, it would have 880,000 square feet for hospital use and another 191,000 square feet for accessory structures, such as parking, retail and restaurant space. The parking garage would have room for 450 cars as well as space for bikes. The main vehicle entrance would be on Fifth Avenue at the Atwood Street light. The driveway would lead to a dropoff area in front of the hospital and to the parking garage entrance.

When constructed, the new building would have a curved glass tower parallel to DeSoto Street, which will house patient rooms, and a lower section facing Fifth Avenue that will be the main entrance. The ground floors will include retail space and a restaurant as well as the hospital entrance. A rooftop garden on the lower section will help increase the green space and tree canopy on the property.

Traffic patterns at new hospital

Other takeaways from the Planning Commission presentation:

Traffic during construction: UPMC officials said that during construction, parking would be eliminated on DeSoto Street and there would be only one lane of traffic, going uphill. On Fifth, one lane of traffic and the sidewalk would be closed starting at DeSoto and ending before the Atwood bus shelter.

Glass, glass and more glass: The tower is wrapped in a continuous glass curtain wall made from two types of glass to create texture, HGA’s Alex Terzich said. Stone fins, that echo the limestone on UMPC Presbyterian, also will help with solar shading.

“The aim here is to find the right combination of … moderate reflectivity that provides privacy to the patient rooms, but isn't too reflective and doesn't have too much of a strong effect on the city,” he said.

When asked about possible glare from the building, Terzich said the convex shape of the southwest side of the building, which will get the most direct sunlight, will help disperse the light and not concentrate high heat in one area. He said they also studied if the building would case nuisance visual glare affecting pedestrians and drivers and found it was “within a very normal range of these types of buildings that exist in urban conditions.”

The lower section of the building will have less reflective glass so there’s a “connection from the streetscape into the public and common spaces inside,” Terzich said.

Sustainability: UPMC is hoping to achieve an LEED silver certification for the building, Leigh Harrison of HGA said. The developers have met with the Department of City Planning and the Green Building Alliance to establish parameters they want to meet. A stormwater plan was approved last year. They are aiming for a 75 percent diversion rate for all on-site construction waste, as well as a 45 percent reduction of energy use and 26 percent reduction of water use from the baseline.

Tree canopy: The goal for the landscape design includes increasing the tree canopy. One of the presenters said the current trees at the site are mostly young and few were larger than 3 inches in diameter. The current tree canopy on the site is about 6,200 square feet, and they hope to increase it to 15,000 square feet, which would include trees on the roof garden. All of the trees will be native to the region and also are listed on the city's recommended tree list.

Bird safety: While a large glass tower seems like it would be a danger to migrating birds, Terzich said bird safety is most critical at lower levels when birds are touching down and feeding. A very subtle pattern will be overlayed on the lower floor glass surfaces that would be slightly visible to humans but quite visible to birds.

Public art: The developers are working with five artists to create pieces that would be in the public access areas of the building. Renee Piechocki, a public art consultant working with UPMC, said these will be the first new public art installations in Oakland since 2005.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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