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Arch: The Steel City Transformer

on Tue, 07/09/2013 - 00:00

Arch Pittsburgh Airport
As part of Pittsburgh’s 250th Anniversary Celebration, the Heinz Endowments commissioned four pieces of original art in 2008 to help commemorate the rich history of the region. Among them was a giant Transformer-like robot nicknamed “Arch,” created by Los Angeles sculptor Glenn Kaino, that had multiple grey-and-yellow bridges protruding from its body. Although the twenty-foot tall, steel and fiberglass sculpture was only meant to be a temporary exhibit, the subsequent popularity of Arch led to the statue becoming a permanent fixture at the corner of Seventh Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard nonetheless.

Unfortunately Arch’s original construction eventually began to falter and it was subsequently moved to Ohio for restoration in September 2011. “It was made to last for six months,” Rene Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art, explained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. “Some parts were made out of wood. But people really loved it and we really want to keep it. It’s so much fun when a work of art becomes loved.”

When Arch finally returned to the Steel City in June 2013, meanwhile, it was given a more visible location on the “landside” of Pittsburgh International Airport, enabling both residents and visitors alike the opportunity to see a truly unique Pittsburgh tourist attraction. To further enhance the experience, the Engineer Society of Western Pennsylvania teamed up with Wall-to-Wall Studios to create an educational display to accompany Arch, detailing the historical aspects of the various iconic bridges that are part of the Pittsburgh landscape.

“Public art enhances the passenger experience while flying and helps to promote our region,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told FlyPittsburgh in December 2012. “The sculpture is loved by a wide range of audiences. It is a perfect ‘greeter’ at the airport for people coming to or departing the region. Arch can impact economic development by attracting visitors and transforming the airport environment.”

David Minnotte, chairman of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, had a similar opinion. “The Art in the Airport program provides oversight to an art collection of style, diversity and beauty that can be enjoyed by the traveling public and employees,” he added. “We are pleased to work with the Pittsburgh Arts Council and the Heinz Endowments in accepting this significant work of art.”

For the uninitiated, a “Transformer” is a fictional alien robot disguised as a motor vehicle that can expand into a giant mechanical device derived from its original form. Transformers first appeared within the realms of pop culture as a Japanese animated television series in the 1980s and have since evolved into a successful toy line and movie franchise. Glenn Kaino decided on crafting a Transformer made of bridges after visiting Pittsburgh in preparation for his 250th Anniversary Celebration assignment, talking with local residents and exploring the architecture of the region in the process.

“While not looking human, it has human qualities,” former Warhol Museum Director Tom Sokolowski explained to Carnegie Magazine in regards to Arch. “It is benevolent—it wants to revive the city. Arch plays off the arch of 1758 to the present.”

Glenn Kaino was even more direct in his thoughts on the twenty-foot sculpture that he created for city. “Literally and metaphorically, Arch is a bridge between the past, present, and future,” he said. “From the immigrants constructing bridges to navigate the terrain, to the steel industry and the rise of industrialism, to the robotics industry and advanced technology that exists there today and drives hope for the future, my goal was for Arch to be an iconic figure that embodied that narrative—but that also looked really, really cool.”

A fitting metaphor indeed, and yes, a “really, really cool” one as well.

Anthony Letizia

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