By Barbra Murray, Contributing Writer
Pittsburgh–Residential Architect, a publication of the American Institute of Architects, received 824 entries in 14 categories for its annual Residential Architect Design Awards, and after an arduous judging process, selected 40 projects–and The Cork Factory in Pittsburgh was one of them. Real estate company McCaffery Interests Inc. handily transformed a turn-of-the-century warehouse complex into a thriving residential property with 297 loft apartments, while maintaining the original facility’s celebrated historic features. And for that, McCaffery’s Cork Factory has been recognized with a Merit Award in the Adaptive Reuse category.
Occupying four acres along the Allegheny River in the Pittsburgh’s Strip District, the multi-structure property that is now the award-winning apartment destination, started out as the home of the Armstrong Cork Co.’s factory in 1901. The factory shut its doors in 1974, and the property soon began to collect cobwebs that would increase in number for three decades. Many a developer had considered plans for the vacant site, but nothing came to fruition until McCaffery joined forces with owner Charles Hammel III, president of trucking company Pitt-Ohio Express and a well-known figure in local real estate.
“It’s easy for developers to say, ‘I’m going to tear this down,'” Ed Woodbury, president of McCaffery, tells MHN. But McCaffery’s vision for the old factory centered on preserving the old and incorporating the new. “The cool thing about this building is its historic qualities. When we were going forward with Chuck Hammel, he educated us on its history, and it has a huge, long history. While touring the building, people who used to work there years ago would come up to us and tell us stories. It gave us an appreciation for its history, so we wanted to restore the physical asset and some of its history, too.”
McCaffery started things off by getting the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places before commencing construction in 2005. The architectural firm on the project, Antunovich Associates, was no stranger to adaptive reuse endeavors. “One of the major challenges was maintaining the integrity of the exterior look of the building,” Scot Ferguson, principal with Antunovich Associates, tells MHN. “It was hugely important to us, getting it back to its original pristine look. It is a landmark building, but we had to replicate some of the features that couldn’t be refurbished.” The firm was triumphant in its pursuits.
“It’s been well received,” Woodbury says. “It’s a successful project not only in its restoration and design, but it’s a business success, too. It’s been 98 percent leased for the last four years, even during the recession. It shows the quality of the project.”
Residential Architect will present McCaffery with the award honoring The Cork Factory in May at the AIA meetings in New Orleans. The acknowledgement will likely draw even more attention to the property’s achievements. “We hope it will lead to more renovation in the Strip District and more development along the Allegheny River,” Woodbury adds. “Pittsburgh is a great city and we hope The Cork Factory has opened people’s eyes to the opportunity of urban living.”