Honorable Mention - Excellence in Planning for a District or Campus Component

University of Pittsburgh

Hillside Framework Plan
University of Pittsburgh - Hillside Framework Plan
Jury Comments
““. . . the vertical complexity and a campus on a hill is a real physical challenge, and they did it really well . . . I appreciated the understanding that a range of solutions can still be connected and read as a continuous feature—‘Green Ribbon’ . . .””


    • Site – 68 acres
    • The plan addresses traversing a dramatic 400-foot topographic change.
    • Social nodes exist at various scales and levels of formality along the “Green Ribbon,” acting as the connective and unifying tissue between buildings and other major destinations.
    • Clarifying movement from lower campus through the Hillside was key.
    • Gathering places offer views of campus and frame key destinations.
    • Providing more tree canopy, addressing the compatible plantings, and using engineered and natural stormwater management met goals outlined in the institution’s sustainability plan.
    • Guidelines ensure that as capital projects progress, a unified vision for the Hillside emerges.


Siting of the first four projects coming out of the recently completed master plan provided the opportunity for a landscape framework plan and design guidelines to address the needs of the students and the neighboring community. The adjacency of three building capital projects (Arena & Sports Complex, Hillside Housing, and Recreation & Wellness Center) on existing steep slopes necessitated the space to be unified and read as one continuous experience. After the framework plan completion, a fourth capital project (The Hillside Project) was added to address the interstitial space between the original three projects. This capital project takes landscape that was previously viewed as leftover and imbues it with identity and a sense of place.

Rethinking the nature of the relationship between urban lower campus and the vastly different yet complementary topography and character of the hillside provides an opportunity to envision a signature landscape within the campus that creates a sense of unity and cohesion between disparate architecture while emerging as an iconic feature in and of itself. At the core of the project is the “Green Ribbon,” a primary pathway that facilitates a journey up, down, and through campus, stitching together episodic moments along that journey, and using the topography and ecology of the landscape as its armature. Social nodes along the Green Ribbon offer places for both gathering and solitude, creating spaces for all types of human engagement.

The steep hillsides of the campus have history tied to the industrial era of Pittsburgh and presented a historical challenge. The prospect of new construction provided the opportunity to accompany the historical steep stairs, known as “paper streets,” with horizontal pathways, connecting the new spaces with paths, new trees, and shrubs to assist with stabilization of the hillside. The views from the upper heights were opened up and now offer a new perspective on the urban layout, including powerful views to iconic buildings like the Cathedral of Learning and the former Schenley Hotel, the current student center.

The Hillside Framework Plan achievements include: connected landscapes and paths; stormwater management; plant selection based on native and compatible species; places for engagement; a unified design framework for the entire area of the hillside; scientific principles guiding reforestation of the hillside; a newly introduced method of calculating tree growth; and spaces for the campus community and the surrounding neighbors. The plan has been the first opportunity for truly integrated planning among multiple projects on challenging sites.

Project Team

DAVID RUBIN Land Collective