Springboard Design



Since our inception in 2001, Springboard Design has been committed to providing planning and design services to non-profits, helping to align facilities with missions, visions, and values. Organizations we have worked with include the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, The Andy Warhol Museum, The National Aviary, CLASS and Community Human Services. Inspired by community leaders like Theaster Gates and others, we have focused on how the arts can help drive community and economic development. This work has led to the establishment of an arts organization in Johnstown, PA, Creator Square.

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Hello Friends,

This month we’d like to share a recent Springboard Design collaboration: The West End Vacant School Study, a 120 page adaptive reuse and market analysis report commissioned by the West End Alliance and supported by the Design Center of Pittsburgh.

The West End Vacant School Study

Springboard Design led a team that studied the current conditions of four vacant schools within Pittsburgh’s District 2, and presented site-specific opportunities to redevelop these sites into important community assets. As we learned through public forums with the local community, there is common interest in reusing these vacant buildings to spark neighborhood revitalization efforts in a way that positively impacts the nearby residents and the vitality of the district as a whole. Our partners in this project were Integra Realty Resources and Jeffrey King Architecture.

Concerns about several prominent but empty properties led The West End Alliance to seek the help of the Design Center of Pittsburgh to commission an adaptive reuse and market analysis study in early 2014.  Springboard Design assembled a team to produce this study in the summer of 2014, and a Steering Committee of representative community members was appointed. Interested parties provided feedback, attended various planning and brainstorming sessions, and public forums. Together we evaluated alternatives for the community’s consideration.

Each of the schools was once a vibrant part of their respective neighborhoods, but had to be abandoned for various reasons. Three of the Pittsburgh Public Schools [Schaeffer Primary in Crafton Heights; Schaeffer Intermediate (known locally as the Sheraden School) in Sheraden; and Thaddeus Stevens in Elliott] were closed in 2012/2013 in order to consolidate students into larger facilities. A number of years earlier, two school buildings and the convent on the Holy Innocents Catholic Church property in Sheraden had also been vacated.  The specific goal of Springboard Design’s Study is focused on the conditions, marketability, and best potential uses for these school buildings. In addition, we hope our research will build a conceptual foundation for how District 2 can position itself for a thriving future.

The West End Vacant School Study is comprised of extensive site research and building analyses. A series of maps show local contextual conditions in the immediate surroundings of each school. Site plans, floor plans, elevations, building and engineering reports of the properties provide a comprehensive set of information about the existing conditions within each property.

Armed with an extensive market analysis of the properties and neighborhoods, the Study purposes new uses for three of the four properties. These “test fits” include proposed building plans and renderings of some of their potential uses.

Funding for the project was provided by District 2 Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, the Office of Mayor Peduto and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh and was administered through the Design Center of Pittsburgh’s Design Fund Program.

Digital Copies of the the West End Vacant School Study are available upon request.
Please email Paul Rosenblatt if you are interested.
Edited by Cassandra Osterman and Paul Rosenblatt AIA


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Community of Ideas_Arch App-01Dear Friends,
Pittsburgh has recently gotten some great national press as one of the top foodie cities in the United States. To celebrate, Springboard Design would like to share a smokin’ hot new restaurant project we recently completed – one that’s sure to satisfy your (Architectural) Appetites.

SMOKE Barbeque Taqueria

SMOKE Barbeque Taqueria is one of the most recent (and most delicious) new restaurants to hit the hip Lawrenceville neighborhood culinary scene. Located at the intersection of Butler and Main Streets, this fresh eatery reopened in February, 2015, after relocating from their previous site in Homestead. What was once a vacant ground floor space on a flourishing Pittsburgh street is now home to artisanal handcrafted tacos and homemade tortillas. As Melissa McCart of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette puts it, “Smoke 2.0 has a reclaimed-wood-meets-cowboy aesthetic, with paned-glass doors welded together as walls to section the room.” (Read the full article here).

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The balance between entertaining and cooking in the open kitchen defines the special character of this long, narrow space (approximately 20ft wide by 140ft long). Diners, waiters and chefs are all performers, together contributing to the lively atmosphere – even the music is specially selected (When we were there last, Fela Kuti alternated with the Arctic Monkeys on the boisterous sound system!) The lobby, dining room, and bar areas are situated near the front, soaking in the light of the garage door window and the vibrancy of the neighborhood outside. The open kitchen and other support spaces occupy the back. At the center of all this, behind a suspended tin pig sculpture, lurks the mammoth meat smoker, an industrial metal cooking machine credited with producing Smoke’s signature meats which define the restaurant’s unique character and menu.

Edited by Cassandra Osterman and Paul Rosenblatt AIA


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Dear Friends,
July 2015 is New Technology month at Springboard Design. To celebrate, we’re highlighting an exciting new project that is about to break ground in southwestern PA, a house we have designed that is completely off the grid!


Springboard Design’s new ‘Off-Grid House’ house, just starting construction in a few weeks, will be a weekend escape for our clients, quite literally off the beaten path and off the energy grid. No power, gas, or public utilities will run to the site – all energy will be acquired or generated on-site making it a truly off-grid house. A single system with two energy sources will provide power: a solar photovoltaic panel array will be the year round energy source coupled with a propane tank for supplemental heating.  The solar panel array, located in the clearing – not rooftop mounted – will gather energy to be stored in a large battery bank in the house. Electrical devices like lighting, television, cell phone chargers, and stereo equipment will draw power from this bank of solar collectors. Propane will fuel the forced-air heating system for the whole house, with additional built-in capacity for a planned air conditioning system in the future.

Construction-wise, the structure itself was designed as energy-efficiently as possible. The wall and roof assemblies include dense continuous insulation, which prevents heat-loss to the exterior during the winter. During the summer, the high sloped Great Room ceilings will draw hot summer air up, up and away from the occupants at floor level!

Flanked by sleeping quarters on either side, the house’s Great Room, with Russian fireplace, anchors the design. Our open-concept central space unites kitchen, dining, and living room functions that overlook the site’s clearing and the riverbed below. The property’s natural beauty will probably best be appreciated from the porches, both covered and uncovered. Lower level storage will accommodate an ATV for cruising around the rugged property.



Springboard’s Off-Grid House is riding the wave of increasing numbers of rebates and tax credits offered to new home builders incorporating solar power into their designs. As a general trend, the United States is striving toward incentivizing residential and commercial investment in solar power through  a variety of fiscal programs. More states are attempting to reduce the obstacles of adding solar panels to new and existing projects – particularly the upfront costs of buying and installing panels.

Check out a comprehensive list of current programs offered in your state

Weighing the monetary benefits and supplemental programs available, solar power has become far more cost effective than it has been in the past. Homeowners and businesses might want to keep in mind that the up-front cost of buying and installing solar panels can be partially offset by monthly savings on their electric bills. Depending upon the programs available where you live, on days when you generate more power than you need, the electric company may buy back your extra energy and send it to the collective grid. Ongoing research in PV efficiency is accelerating so fast, that it takes fewer and fewer solar panels to gather the same amount of energy every day. Furthermore, the hard costs of panels, racks, and inverters continues to decline steadily. The timeframe for return on investment is rapidly declining.

If you are considering adding solar panels to your home or business, please contact us. We would love to help you reduce your carbon footprint, and hopefully, save you money along the way.

Edited by Cassandra Osterman and Paul Rosenblatt AIA


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Dear Friends,

Look outside. The sun is shining, grass is growing, buds are sprouting on tree branches, and flowers are blooming. After a long, cold, lonely winter, we were so happy about seeing spring color again here at Springboard Design that we wanted to shout/write about it.  What is there to say about color in our practice of architecture? A month or so ago, we began to think about color and its relationship to our practice of architecture in preparation for this newsletter.

But, a funny thing happened on the way to this newsletter. While we were thinking about how we like to use color at Springboard Design – its meanings, how it works, what we perceive on buildings and in environments – we received an email from Adam Nye, Director of the City As Our Campus program at Pittsburgh’s Winchester Thurston School. As their website testifies, City As Our Campus provides:

“meaningful and authentic learning experiences by utilizing community resources to interact with diverse people and environments, gain access to various tools and materials, learn from the expertise of others, and understand the issues and events happening in our community. This community-based approach allows our students to not only gain an awareness of our community, but also increases their investment in the well-being of it….It challenges students in authentic and relevant ways, making their learning deep and meaningful.”

In his email, Adam suggested a collaboration between three students – Alek Binion, Mathieu Lebiere, and Teddy Boyd – in English Teacher Christine Benner Dixon’s twelfth grade English class.

The challenge we proposed was writing this month’s newsletter about color in Architecture! We met with the students once in person during this period, and had several phone conversations and email exchanges along the way. The hardest part of the project, we explained, was that while we use color very intentionally, we have yet to evolve a coherent theory of color in architecture. So, their challenge was to figure out what might be interesting for you, our readers, to consider on the subject while exploring what Springboard Design has done with color in the past and where that might lead us.

Honestly, given a difficult challenge with a finite timeframe, the fuzzy prompt, and the enormity of the topic itself, the students did a phenomenal job. So, here, in the next few paragraphs, we share their efforts with you:

Color and Architecture
Alek Binion, Mathieu Lebiere, and Teddy Boyd

In this month’s newsletter we will be discussing color, the area of design which has been argued to play a primary role in determining individuals’ neuro-psychologic, physiologic, ergonomic, and emotional states within an environment. If that bit of jargon made you feel a little blue, don’t be sad, because we are only talking about color! Color theory is as colorful as it is, well, colorful and today we hope to provide you with a brief inlet into the field and give you a better understanding of the vibrant world around you. So sit back, relax, and be prepared to take a leisurely stroll through some of the philosophy, psychology, history, and science surrounding this everyday phenomenon, specifically in its link to the world of architecture.

Whether you are currently green with envy or yellow with fear, color has been indubitably linked to the human psyche in both the fields of art and science. Color and psychology have been formally intertwined for hundreds of years;  as early as the 1600’s, “aesthetics” became an important aspect of philosophy dealing with art and the appreciation of beauty.  Writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang Goethe studied color effects on the mind, even publishing a work entitled the “Wheel of Temperaments,” a color wheel diagram matching colors to emotional states and professions (5). While many prominent theorists throughout history have dabbled in color psychology, the most prolific of these color connoisseurs might be painter Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky’s color theory merges emotion, sound, and sight into one mass of sensory stimulation made possible by his synesthetic mind. Green, for example, represents resilience, hidden strength, and the sound of a drawn out note on the middle position of violin; blue connotes mourning, “the supernatural”, and the organ; and yellow suggests warmth, madness, and the sound of sharp trumpets (3)(4).

Let’s relate this discussion back to Springboard Design. For starters, we reviewed Springboard’s color selections for the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s new location. The center will feature a linear design concept that is reinforced by a monochromatic to polychromatic gradient, each room progressing in succession from the grey to color, culminating in red. Kandinsky’s theorem states that gray is a combination of “silence, hopelessness, and immovability,” while red is “trumpets, striving towards a goal, and strength.” We appreciate that the combination of grays and reds is a fitting set of colors for a cultural institution designed to both educate a community on Holocaust experiences and inspire future positive action.

Springboard Design uses color to maximize the impact of subtle spacial transitions, as exemplified in the UCP / Class Headquarters in Swissvale. The client wanted an open office, so Springboard Design decided to use colors as a way to promote various types of work flow in a single space. They sub-divided the space using color; subsets of the room being painted red, blue, and turquoise. Blue is thought to encourage productivity through its calming effects, red has been demonstrated to raise body temperature and the energy of a space, and turquoise adds warmth and helps balance the palette of the room. In fact, blue light has been shown to decrease one’s heart rate, body temperature and overall stress levels (9). Through their color selections, the designers hoped to encourage productivity, innovation, and balance within the UCP workplace, positively contributing to the efficiency of the company and the comfort of their employees.

Many different aspects of building design can be calculated and analyzed in terms of their effect on the occupants. While that is true for paint colors, there are still qualitative aspects to color that are more difficult to measure. Our interpretation of color is simultaneously analytic and intuitive, perceptual and physiological. Color is one of the most prominent and yet unnoticed aspects of how we react to the architectural spaces we occupy in our daily lives.

One of the goals of Springboard Design’s newsletters is to inspire thought, bridging the gap between the everyday and the world of design. We hope that after reading this newsletter, you will see the world a little differently, through ‘design-oriented’ eyes.  Take a moment to see color, the paint on the walls of the rooms around you, a little differently. You might be surprised by how it makes you feel.



Many thanks to the students, faculty and administration of Winchester Thurston School for giving Springboard Design the opportunity to creatively use the resources of our community to engage in a larger conversation about architecture and culture. We are excited to continue exploring color’s impact on all of the projects that we design.

Edited by Cassandra Osterman and Paul Rosenblatt AIA

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This month we are connecting the dots between global thought and local initiatives, exploring the Sharing Economy and the Maker Movement. How are these two national trends transforming the American marketplace and the development of one of our latest projects, Creator Square – an innovative artisan residency program we conceived for the heart of Johnstown, PA?

Creator Square

Creator Square is an urban revitalization, economic development, and job skills transfer program originated by Springboard Principal Paul Rosenblatt AIA and developed with economic consultant Donald Bonk, a Johnstown native. It is an artisan residency program based in the historic, rust belt community of Johnstown, PA, located one hour southeast of Pittsburgh. The goal of Creator Square is to bring skilled ‘makers’ to live/work studios at the city’s downtown epicenter, mix them with local makers, manufacturers and educational institutions, and connect Johnstown’s creative community, industrial infrastructure, and entrepreneurial activity. Members of the residency will receive national recognition, affordable live/work housing, access to new economy manufacturing equipment, skill transfer via collaborative work, career development guidance, teaching opportunities, and a financial stipend. Creator Square is a means for makers to create and sell their products nationally, a place for makers to teach and learn, and an opportunity to collaborate with local manufacturers on new ideas and products.

Creator Square is at the intersection between global thought and local initiative, a local application of the emerging global trends in both the collaborative economy and the maker movement.

Like many rust belt cities, Johnstown is populated with majestic historic buildings in various stages of vacancy. Last spring, Springboard Design began work with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and students from Carnegie Mellon University to identify an underused building for a pilot artisan-residency program. The three-story Parkview Building was selected, purchased, renamed the Johnstown Creator Center (JCC) and is  being adapted into an artisan studio building with four residential units, a common kitchen/gathering space, public gallery, and a shared workshop equipped with machinery for interdisciplinary craft, small batch manufacturing, and next-gen economic development.

While most architectural projects begin with an established program, Creator Square is still in its infancy. By this time next year, the JCC will become the center of a two-year artisan/maker residency program where the participants will share amenities to design and make products for their existing businesses. In addition to cultivating this makingeconomy and invigorating downtown Johnstown with new enterprise, another key tenet of the program is the active skills transfer between resident makers and the local community. This includes current and past workers in the defense related manufacturing sector. While having the opportunity to build their businesses, the makers in-residence – dubbed ‘Creative Masters’  – will also offer classes and workshops in their specialties in concert with local area colleges and other organizations. The program is designed to partner makers with local manufacturers and businesses, creating a supply chain of salvaged, reused, or scrap materials for their work.

National Recognition for Creator Square

Creator Square has rapidly become a reality over the past year, garnering national attention and funding, including support from the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, R.K. Mellon Foundation, Greater Johnstown Regional Partnership, and Carnegie Mellon University. It is currently a finalist for the prestigious ArtPlace America grant – a funding program designed to invest in creative placemaking projects committed to strengthening the social, physical, and economic fabric of their communities. Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic was one of a handful of mayors who represented cities at the forefront of the maker movement at the White House last year as part of President Obama’s national maker initiative. Creator Square’s tremendous momentum has emerged from a basis of local interest and national maker-driven economic development initiatives.

Creator Square and the Sharing Economy

Creator Square is a maker-focused program immersed in the values of what is called the ‘sharing economy.’ In this program, resident makers share equipment, skills, and space, in order to cultivate innovation and energy in an underused urban site. The shared workshop equipment is a major draw for artisans who might not otherwise afford to own this equipment for their personal use. The common kitchen is a place for random and accidental collaboration which leads to innovative ideas emerging from creative people gathering over meals. The inherent social capital in repurposing a beautiful (but empty building) is significant, in addition to buying artisan-made products which innovatively incorporate second-hand or waste materials. Creator Square serves as both a community touchstone for connection with the arts and artisans and as a working space for makers, bringing a global focus on creative collaboration and sharing to a local context.

The Rise of the Sharing Economy

Take a long look at the American social and economic landscape and you may conclude that we are becoming significantly more comfortable with strangers. There is a growing sector of the economy predicated on sharing, often with people we have never met. The major vacation-rental company Airbnb (valued at $13 billion)1 simply facilitates the transaction between the out-of-town homeowner and the weary traveler seeking a room.  Lyft and Uber, both ride-sharing services which enable anyone with a car to become a for-hire taxi driver, have become the definitive powerhouses of the so-called “peer-to-peer revolution”2. Other services like Tradesy and Yerdle capitalize on swap trading  connecting consumers’ “haves” with other consumers “wants” in a way that removes money altogether. The redistribution market is closer to a high-tech bazaar than a pawn shop. These transactions, with and without money, are highly dependent on the built-in trust mechanisms for rating these exchanges. While businesses like Airbnb, Uber, or Yerdle exist in very different markets, they are predicated on a common foundation: collaborative consumption built on technologies which enable connections and heightened trust between strangers.

These on-demand services are dependent on a burgeoning preference for access over ownership. Businesses like Relay Rides or Peerby completely rely on this concept. No longer are you borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor; more likely, you’re borrowing their lawn mower, and they’re borrowing your car. For some, the proposition of paying for a ride through Uber, or renting a car through Zipcar, may be more favorable than carrying the costs of maintaining a personal vehicle.  Conversely, there is an appeal for product owners or homeowners who can turn their idling home or tools into extra income by renting them out via these tech-based services. These “product service systems”3 mean that many consumers have the potential to enjoy the benefits of a product without owning it.

These businesses are receiving national headlines for their rapid growth, and admittedly, their controversial profiteering methods. While some have been patronized for allegedly exploitive practices, there are forces at play that nonetheless catalyzed this burgeoning demand: “a renewed belief in the importance of community, a torrent of peer-to-peer social and real-time technologies, pressing unresolved environmental concerns, and global recession that has fundamentally shocked consumer behavior.”4 For these reasons, the on-demand economy of ride-sharing, house-sharing, even time-sharing, has grown in the last decade from relatively unknown businesses to major enterprises integral to the way many live in modern US cities.

The Maker Movement

If you have recently been to a craft fair or shopped on Etsy, you will know first-hand that the “maker movement” is alive and well. The “maker movement” essentially references the recent evolution of the DIY culture that often exists at the crosshairs of engineering-oriented trades (such as computered milling machines, aka CNC milling) and traditional craft trades (for example, woodworking). “Maker” has become the umbrella term for “independent inventors, designers and tinkerers… a convergence of computer hackers and traditional artisans” 5.

Today, approximately 135 million U.S. adults identify themselves as makers. Since its launch in 2005, the online market Etsy has grown into a substantial network of 1.4 million active sellers6, 74% of whom identify their Etsy “shops” as an extension of their primary business and earned income.7 This rise of artisan-entrepreneurship is partly a result of out-of-reach technologies (a la e.g. 3D printers) becoming more readily available to the public. Coupled with the modern mantra of open-source learning, many Americans have taken advantage of these new opportunities to pursue their craft and capitalize on their artistic pursuits according to USA Today, maker-based business is contributing $29 billion to the world economy each year.8 This past June, the Obama administration hosted the first- ever White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. This event involved “students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and lead a grassroots renaissance in American manufacturing”9.  As the White House has identified, the Maker Movement is a growing economic force in the United States which has the potential to democratize production, enable innovation, and re-imagine manufacturing. This potential for revitalization is becoming increasingly relevant in the national arena, and especially in our work in Johnstown, PA.

By Cassandra Osterman and Paul Rosenblatt AIA

1 Joel Stein, “My wild ride through the new on-demand economy,” Time Magazine, January 29, 2015, accessed March 15, 2015, http://time.com/3687305/testing-the-sharing-economy/
2 Rachel Botsman, “The case for collaborative consumption,” TEDxSydney, May 2010, accessed March 10, 2015,  http://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption
3  ibid   /   4  ibid
5 “Which big brands are courting the maker movement, and why,” Adweek, March 17, 2014, accessed March 22, 2015, http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/which-big-brands-are-courting-maker-movement-and-why-156315
6  Vikram Nagarker, “Etsy IPO: All you need to know about Etsy,” Amigobulls.com, March 19, 2015, accessed March 22, 2015, http://amigobulls.com/articles/etsy-ipo-all-you-need-to-know-about-etsy
7  Kathleen Davis, “The ‘Etsy Economy’ and Changing the Way We Shop,” Entrepreneur Magazine, March 22, 2013, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226180
8 Tim Bajarin, “Why the maker movement is important to America’s future,” Time Magazine, May 19, 2014, accessed March 15, 2015, http://time.com/104210/maker-faire-maker-movement/
9  “FACT SHEET: President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire,” Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, June 18, 2014, accessed March 15, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/18/fact-sheet-president-obama-host-first-ever-white-house-maker-faire

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Dear Friends of Springboard Design Around The World,

As you may have noticed, Springboard Design has been using new communication tools! So far, we’ve shared the excitement of promoting musical excursions close to the heart of our Springboard staff (e.g. Sunday Secret Vaults at the The Independent Brewing Company with musical selections by Paul Rosenblatt). Moving forward, we hope to continue to keep you in the loop for similar events, but we also plan to broaden our scope.

Over the past few months, we have been hard at work creating a more effective database of our growing network of clients, colleagues and friends. In the 14 year history of Springboard, we’ve had the privilege to work with so many amazing people who’ve helped create memorable projects of all scales. Our projects have evolved into increasingly interdisciplinary ventures, and for that we are grateful for the collaborations that have made these projects possible.

With that in mind, we look ahead to our more holistic roles as Architects in the modern world, a community of ideas. Experience has taught us that sometimes, it is our duty (and pleasure) to BEGIN CONVERSATIONS – to discuss early ideas, to share innovations, and to act as engaged connectors between people. We strive to engage those early concepts and initial ideas, and through thoughtful discussion and investigation, evolve those ideas into actions and realized projects. Our role as Architects has grown to include fostering these early conversations, and nurturing new ideas; It is also our role to provide the tools, inspiration, and cutting-edge innovations that can help launch projects into exciting new directions.

Springboard Design announces a Monthly Newsletter, which will arrive in your email inboxes with a well-crafted variety of content. Our goal is to keep you connected to…

  1.  Resources to assist you, inspire you, and motivate you to foster those early ideas
  2. Innovations in building technology
  3. Important cultural events and exhibitions happening in Pittsburgh
  4. Highlights of recently finished/featured Springboard Design projects
  5. Highlights of Springboard Design services

We hope to continue CULTIVATING A COMMUNITY OF IDEAS, one where we can serve our friends and colleagues though continuous and educational engagement. We are excited to share with you our recent architectural and artistic work, but we are equally excited to provide a forum for insightful inquiry and innovation beyond Springboard Design.

-Cassandra Osterman
Editor, Springboard Design Newsletter