You can be sure…if it’s Westinghouse


Brittany Reilly


Preservation Pittsburgh/Pittsburgh Modern Committee


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The former Westinghouse Research and Development Center sited on 150 carefully curated acres in Churchill Borough, Pennsylvania, 10 miles from Pittsburgh's Point, holds a noteworthy place in the history of architecture, design, industry and science and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, maintaining significant integrity. The multiplex modernist corporate campus and landscape, designed through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and exemplary of midcentury suburban R&D facilities with parklike surrounds, is at risk for complete demolition with an impending redevelopment plan void of reuse.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: The Shape of Things to Come

The next time you fly into Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the rare occasion of a clear day in one of the cloudiest cities in the nation, look toward the land as you approach Pittsburgh International about 30 miles out from the East, and see if you can spot - nestled amongst the lush greenery or snowy treetops - the old familiar shape of a steam locomotive.  That's right, the profile outline of a railroad train engine, with three driving wheels to go-round and a chimney standing proud.

The result of a Skidmore Owings & Merrill multiplex modern corporate campus design in 1962 and 1974, it remains unclear (and a compelling local legend) if this architectural anatomy was an intentional homage to industry, conveniently an impressive feature to earthbound clients and colleagues traveling in from around the US and the globe to come to...Westinghouse. At the center of one of the 'train wheels' (circular parking lots!) appears an imprint of the company's infamous circuit-board treatment to the humble letter "W," devised in the early 1960s by graphic maestro Paul Rand on an invitation to modernize the brand identity under design consultant Eliot Noyes. It remains an iconic symbol epitomizing the ingenuity and innovation driving the enterprise since its founding in 1886 as Westinghouse Electric by one George Westinghouse, from a tiny plant in a Pittsburgh alleyway.

Churchill is a predominantly residential and modestly sized borough first formed in 1936 and further born of the ambitious midcentury Pittsburgh Renaissance I, situated between the Allegheny and Monongahela about ten miles before they converge into the Ohio River.

The borough and the ongoing Westinghouse development had an interrelationship with roadways radiating from Downtown Pittsburgh. Churchill was the terminus of the new Parkway East highway opened in 1953 with its starting point near the urban center. When an extension was integrated in 1962, the Churchill interchange became an ‘island of greenspace in the midst of traffic’ with later upgrades wrapping around it in such a way that protected this verdant characteristic.

Hugged by major roadways, the Westinghouse 'train,’ fully intact and immediately surrounded by an exceptional, sprawling landscape is headed nowhere, full speed ahead. Read on.

The Most Modern Research Center in the Electrical Industry: An Investment in Tomorrow

Phase 1: 1950s

Throughout September of 1956, throngs of editors and journalists, educators and students, community members, and Westinghouse executives, employees, and their families convened in what was previously a sprawling pastureland and private country estate in Churchill to celebrate the dedication and opening of the new Westinghouse Research Laboratories, a 72-acre hilltop complex and interior program designed by Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith architects-engineers of New York.

Markedly informed by the firm's famed Bell Telephone Laboratories Building No. 2 design completed over a decade earlier in Murray Hill, New Jersey, a feature preview in Progressive Architecture's October 1953 edition highlighted the tetris-like functionality of individual laboratory units and the overall building configuration.  The main block of the brick building contained customizable lab modules each with their own illumination, heat, telephone and facilities. The fully equipped repetitive units of space were adjoined to form fuller laboratories depending on the need, and each could receive maintenance and modification without interruption to adjacent modules.

Throughout the three floors, the pronounced wings projecting from the main building contained programmatic and administrative functions including an elaborate technical reference library, presentation auditorium and executive offices.  Beholden to the existing topography, the Churchill project was designed in correspondence with the surrounding built environment making it distinct from the site in NJ.  With immediate versatility and big-picture progress at top of mind, the design reflected the client's "desire for extreme flexibility of laboratory equipment and services," as well as allowing for the future expansion of the site.  It was a significant modernization and expansion succeeding Westinghouse's nearby Forest Hills facility fully occupied from 1916-1955, deemed one of the world’s first industrial research laboratory separated from manufacturing facilities and where they were the first to develop an atom smasher in 1937, a relic still on the site today.

From the 'brow of the hill overlooking the Parkway,' Westinghouse announced to the world their investment in tomorrow, and more was soon to come. 

Phase 2: 1960s

Less than ten years later and completed by 1962, the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill integrated two new major structures into the Churchill site, along with clever circular parking lots about 325 ft in diameter each and a sleek 200 foot long rectilinear reflecting pool with a fountain surrounded by a tree-lined plaza-pavilion, adding nearly 400,000 square feet to the total area. A 'Materials Engineering & Patents Building’ containing additional laboratories and what an SOM project profile describes as a 'Headquarters Design Lab & New Products Engineering Department' "equipped with facilities for the development of new consumer products and pilot plant equipment installations for manufacturing products" appeared alongside the earlier VWF&S structures.  So utterly modern, composed, and light in comparison that the company later ordered the red brick buildings be painted white to reduce their now dated ambience.

The SOM plan was firmly situated in local architectural historian James D. Van Trump's category of "Castles Toward Tomorrow" in his 'brief commentary on contemporary and industrial sites and parks' in the June 1962 issue of The Charette (the Official *and excellent Publication of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club).  The expanding complex, a 'commanding and interesting element in the landscape' was cited along with several multi-user industrial parks as well as singular corporate campus' in the region, such as the Koppers Company Research Center in nearby Monroeville, as exhibiting an important trend that he rightly speculated would have notable impact in the immediate and as time goes by.  "There is a contemporary castle abroad in the land...Since the end of the Second World War, American industry has been steadily moving into suburban and rural areas... as motor transport has so enormously increased, and as the boundaries of city, suburb and countryside have become more fluid and uncertain, industry itself is leaving its decaying and outmoded metropolitan quarters and seeking in the outer leafy groves a brighter, more spacious site."

Van Trump goes on to indicate some of the likely motivations and benefits for both the existing nearby community and the incoming light industry/company.  For the first, a definite asset and source of tax revenue often with the balancing concession or restriction of the site being buffered with a pleasant landscape and surrounds, and for the latter, inexpensive and "abundant land, more stable labor supply, better integration with markets that are also dispersing, lower cost of operations and fewer taxes.  A powerful factor also, the constantly expanding network of highways - as ease of motor transport is of prime importance..." 

Phase 3: 1970s

Led by SOM Partner and polymath Walter A. Netsch (who developed plans for an unbuilt downtown Pittsburgh 'People Mover' run by Westinghouse) Westinghouse's cultivation of a campus would culminate in 1973 with the firm's award-winning Administrative Office Building for Research and Development. The goal being to centralize various administrative facilities to "an executive cluster" within a single structure, the design would incorporate three floors of office space and a lower-level cafeteria tucked into the hillside.  Netsch, with junior architects Adrian Smith and James DeStefano, continued to develop the master plan with the new 95,000 square foot project following his renowned U.S. Air Force Academy and Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs.

Promptly the subject of Ezra Stoller's peerless lens, and acknowledged with a Distinguished Building Award from the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1974 and Award of Excellence from the American Institute of Steel Construction the following year, the elongated, low-lying form was applauded for "reinforcing the horizontal ambience of the land." Uninterrupted linear moves included butt glazed glass windows that eliminated vertical mullions and a cantilevered perimeter in lieu of apparent vertical columns. With deep-hued anodized aluminum and steel surface panels and dark grey glass panes, it was lauded as "a deceptively simple but sophisticated design" subtle yet strong, simple yet complete, and "elegant in its rural setting." 

Under general contractor Navarro, material from Littell Steel of New Brighton, Pennsylvania was erected by a nearby Turtle Creek based rigging company. The interior design (for which we still seek documentation) was the vision of Robert D. Kleinschmidt, and would have likely been influenced by Westinghouse's in-house Corporate Design Center located across the entire 11th floor of 11 Stanwix Street, Gateway Center, Downtown Pittsburgh, a most innovative 23-story high-rise designed by Harrison & Abramovitz as Westinghouse Headquarters in 1969. The department was spearheaded by Corporate Design Coordinator Richard Huppertz with Noyes, Rand and others to offer "resources and expertise to any Westinghouse operation interested in good, functional designs and a unified and contemporary appearance for all products, buildings, and graphic material” and indeed they "contributed architecture and interior design expertise to many innovative Westinghouse buildings and spaces across the U.S." including nearby Westinghouse Nuclear Energy Systems Headquarters and the Westinghouse Tele-Computer Center in Churchill's neighbor, Monroeville.

Described as a "good neighbor to existing structures and a sympathetic addition to its natural countryside site,"  the Churchill Administration Building came to serve as the gateway to the entire center. The design successfully activated an underutilized plaza previously isolated from a portion of the complex by an entrance road bisecting facilities already on the site.   The base of the building consisted of a steel-truss system allowing it to straddle the roadway allowing traffic to flow beneath.    A design solution that ultimately further emphasized the building's relationship to the surrounding land, the importance placed on the user experience of the campus, and the site's relationship to the almighty vehicle.

One final structure was added in 1974-75 (white multistory at the far right) and housed components of the Generation Technology Systems Division, tenants to Westinghouse.

Enveloped by Flora and Fauna: Modernizing a Meadowland

Rightly boasting the fact that all landscaping scenarios typically encountered in Allegheny County were represented at the Westinghouse R&D Center, an official Landscape Guide (1968) that folded out to road map size suggested four self-guided tours, each beginning at the plaza with the requisite water feature. Themes included Perennials & Annuals covering colorful blooms and dwarf evergreens; Flowering Shrubs & Trees such as Western Pennsylvania's beloved rhododendron; Shade Trees from maples to poplars; and Flowering Trees. Nearly 400 native and curated species were thoughtfully integrated throughout and around the site to maximize the aesthetics of the setting for employees, executives, and guests with the tour encouraging the exploration and traversing of walking paths, open fields, wooded areas, and a water reservoir-like lake containing wildlife. Westinghouse materials engineer Frank Cassel is credited in one source as designer of both the Forest Hills site gardens and the Churchill landscape experience, having expressed his horticultural enthusiasm and knowledge in articles published in the company's Research Newsletter.

The Historic Resource Survey Form prepared in 2020 by architectural historian Robert Ball describes that between buildings 401 and 801 a Japanese Memorial Garden "was constructed circa 1973 and dedicated the following year on May 31, 1974. The garden, designed by three scientists at the facility, was to commemorate the 50-year association of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation which began on November 10, 1923. The garden contains a stone lantern, that was given by the Mitsubishi Corporation, a memorial marker, a small pond with wood bridge, plantings, and a wood structure with metal roof that ran along the existing buildings."

As well documented in Nuclear Suburbs: Cold War Technoscience and the Pittsburgh Renaissance, Patrick Vitale's deep dive into the complex cultural, social and corporate dynamic and climate around the region at the time as signified by Westinghouse's presence - updates and presentations to Churchill's community of residents and business owners by Westinghouse developers delivered a "guarantee that Churchill Borough will continue to be noted for the beauty of its terrain." 

Boundlessly Innovative: This is the Heart of Westinghouse Research

Even a cursory browse through the Westinghouse Electric Corporation Collection at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives offers a glimpse into the remarkable work of the corporation leading up to and during the Churchill years, figuring prominently in technological accomplishments and groundbreaking scientific techniques of the world.   Over 800 employees that grew to over 1500+ had at their fingertips a technical library with 30,000 volumes, an elaborate metals processing lab, several complete machine shops, a glass blowing lab, a photography and reproduction department, drafting facilities and more.  Their staff of scientists and engineers aimed to 'understand scientific phenomena and to transform that understanding into advance technologies for use in creating new products and processes, improved materials, and more sophisticated systems.’ 

Eleven departments were established with the first new building and morphed throughout the years; Chemistry, Electromechanics, Electronics and Nuclear Physics, Insulation, Mathematics, Mechanics, Metallurgy, Physics, Physics Projects Laboratory, Solid State Physics, and Technology. Their basic product: knowledge and "ideas expressed in the form of words, diagrams, and formulas." Though the campus was initially conceived to be restricted to research and development, even lauded as such, eventually, and as evidenced by the format of new structures, 'light industry' product manufacturing (at the very least, prototypes) seemed to have taken place at the facility.  Westinghouse's accumulative patents amounted to nearly 30,000 during the 20th century.  


A Multifaceted Modern Legacy: An Historic Resource

Through until the 1990s the Churchill campus served Westinghouse corporation and affiliates until they sold the bulk of the property in 2012. It came to be owned by NAI Pittsburgh/Churchill Crossings with some areas occupied by tenants and a portion offered as facilities for film production.

Why this complex, with each of the historic structures and remnants of the landscape intact, may not flourish into something of a Bell Works scope (the reimagined modernist Bell Labs by Eero Saarinen with landscape by Sasaki, Walker, and Associates in Holmdel, New Jersey on the NRHP as of 2017) - utilizing historic tax credits to create a cultural resource and a community asset - merits more discussion (perhaps a full blown design charrette) and a much closer look at the ongoing situation on the ground.

The Westinghouse Churchill site holds an outstanding and particular place in local and national history.  With over 30 facilities during the period in the greater Pittsburgh region and an ever-growing influence, it's not difficult to imagine the presence of Westinghouse having had a profound effect on the local Churchill community, its development and sociocultural atmosphere. Perhaps the most evidently visible of which; Churchill remains to have one of the most distinctive clusters of midcentury modern residential homes in the region - many built for Westinghouse employees, executives, and newcomers to the neighborhood and many that have found proud stewards. From these residential streets, some members of the community grow increasingly concerned with a new corporate giant;, Inc; one they fear will not come close to honoring the terrain and milieu of Churchill. During 14 virtual public hearings before Churchill Borough Council, a variety of perspectives (predominantly in opposition to the proposal) were thoroughly voiced, agreeing on at least one thing – a transformation of the site stands to have radical impact.

Beyond the complete demolition of the existing structures, there is a significant focus on the environmental aspect, for the new plan aims remove over 1,400 mature trees which Westinghouse helped to cultivate and level the topography of the site replacing it with a synthetic, impervious plateau to support the 2.9 million square foot facility partially surrounded by retaining walls.

In January 2021, upon review of the Historic Resource Survey Form, the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission, State Historic Preservation Office confirmed the site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C in the Area of Architecture, Criterion A in the Areas of Industry and Science, and under Criterion Consideration G as a property achieving significance within the past 50 years.  Contingent on whether federal permitting will be required and mainly pending the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determination of jurisdiction, Section 106 may come into effect, at which point, more shall be assessed regarding this vital aspect of Pittsburgh history and evaluation of alternatives and mitigation.  

Sources & Recommended Reading

Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, 1892-1981, MSP 285. Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

American Institute of Steel Construction. Architectural Awards of Excellence. New York: American Institute of Steel Construction. 1975. 26-27.

Ball, Robert. Historic Resource Survey Form, George Westinghouse Research and Technology Park, Key #212849, November 17, 2020.

Bridges and Tunnels of Allegheny County and Pittsburgh, PA. “Parkway East Interchange – Churchill.” Accessed November 1, 2021. 

Churchill Borough Municipal Records, Churchill, Pennsylvania.

Heidekat, George. “How Westinghouse Brought Midcentury Modern to the Pittsburgher on the Street.” Carnegie Museum of Art, Storyboard, November 16, 2015.

McLearen, Douglas C., Chief, Division of Environmental Review, Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office to Michael Tincher, Copperhead Environmental Consulting, January 29th, 2021.

Paletta, Anthony. “A New Urbanist Developer Gives Saarinen a Reboot.” Bloomberg CityLab, April 17, 2018. 

Parkway East Transportation Corridor Network. “Project Facts – History.” Accessed November 1, 2021. 

Pittsburgh’s Modernist Moment.” SOM Medium, September 19, 2019.

“Research Laboratories for Westinghouse.” Progressive Architecture 34 (October 1953), 15-16.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Library, Records and Information Services, Chicago, Illinois

Van Trump, James D. "Castles Toward Tomorrow." Charette 42:6 (June 1962), 22-27.

Vitale, Patrick. Nuclear Suburbs: Cold War Technoscience and the Pittsburgh Renaissance. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2021.

Westinghouse Electric Corporation Records, 1865-2000, MSS 424, Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

About the Author

Brittany Reilly is the founder and Chair of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee in her fourth year on the Board of Directors of Preservation Pittsburgh and prioritizes projects at the intersections of 20th-century modern architecture, design and visual arts. She curated the Regional Spotlight on Pittsburgh for Docomomo US in January 2021. Brittany is Executive Director of the Irving and Aaronel deRoy Gruber Foundation.


A special thanks To Susan Sterrett, a Churchill resident who first brought this issue to the attention of the Pittsburgh Modern Committee of Preservation Pittsburgh as a site with 20th-century modern cultural resources at risk.