More than just a luxury hotel in an underrated, but multi-faceted city, the new Fairmont Pittsburgh encapsulates two important themes in the civic identity: First, the "new" Pittsburgh economy, which has diversified beyond steel to education, banking, technology and lately, sustainable building. Second, the robust art scene which, for centuries, has been funded and furthered by the city’s largest fortunes.
Pittsburgh’s move toward sustainable, and in the Fairmont’s case, LEED-certified, construction makes sense, when you consider the context. In the early days of the metal industry boom, steel was the great innovation. Today, the major commercial landholders in Pittsburgh look to innovate once again; not just to stay ahead of the industrial curve, but also to protect once-ravaged natural resources.
The Fairmont’s parent company PNC Bank, which owns more LEED-certified buildings than any other company in the US, determined long ago that sustainable construction was simply the smart decision for the long-term.
This is four-diamond, big-city sustainability, not the typical "eco-retreat" style.
The Fairmont is a highrise, surrounded on all sides by concrete, and made of glass and gleaming surfaces. However, the glass is filtered and is floor-to-ceiling on the outside-facing guest room walls, to aid climate control. Energy-efficient lightbulbs and in-room occupancy detectors save energy and reduce CO2 emissions. Even the hotel restaurant, Habitat, sticks with sustainable tenets, using locally farmed/raised ingredients whenever possible. Habitat’s bustling exhibition kitchen often hosts school groups during the day.
But “eco” isn’t what jumps out at you about this hotel. The art connection is much more obvious, with bold local paintings displayed around the lobby. The posh, popular bar is named Andy’s after Andrew Carnegie and Andy Warhol. Prints by the latter are displayed throughout the bar, each one approved by the Board of Directors of the Warhol Museum.
A peculiar, but fascinating collection of glass artifacts is displayed in glass cases near the elevators on several floors. This collection comes from Pittsburgh’s early days, when locals drank bottled water because the steel industry had tainted their own.
There was a bottling plant here as well, perpetuating an interesting local habit of tossing no-longer-needed glassware down the wells. When the passing of centuries turned the discarded glass from “garbage” to “collectible,” it was rescued from the wells in an archaeologist-supervised, PNC-funded effort. The resulting collection of pieced-together glass dolls, apothecary jars, colored bottles, trinkets and European antiquities is large and fascinating.