Rob Pfaffmann’s work reflects a design strategy that advances Architecture and commitment to his community’s rich urban legacy and its developing global influence. He leverages his credibility with moxie to raise expectations for design excellence. Rob has over 35 years of diverse experience leading the design of key architecture, preservation and planning projects primarily in the Pittsburgh region. His design approach has informed—and been informed by—his advocacy and community involvement. Through his focus on design, he has expanded the notion of an “advocacy architect” as one who reasserts the responsibility of practicing architects to great design, sustainability, historic preservation and advancing urban policy.
In 1983, Rob joined Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) and moved to Pittsburgh. At the time, the city’s industrial base had collapsed and its economy was pivoting towards high technology and environmental regeneration. This led to a series of high-visibility projects for BCJ, and a series of extraordinary buildings that transformed the city’s campuses and brownfield sites. Bringing a higher education perspective with him, Rob was project manager for a range of these projects, including Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute, the Carnegie Mellon Research Institute and the Preiger Intelligent Workplace. All were recognized with AIA awards and national publications, highlighted by two National AIA Honor Awards that have had continuing impact beyond their time and place. The outcomes were decisively influential in the firm’s career as well as Rob’s. For the city, these projects became icons of the new Pittsburgh – and reinforced Rob’s personal commitment to his adoptive city’s advancement. Rob’s passion and commitment to Pittsburgh’s rebirth has often focused on the juxtaposition of new and old. This led to his final project at BCJ, the Heinz History Center. Built within the 125-year-old Chautauqua Ice Company Warehouse, the History Center inspired Rob to deepen his commitment to the role of design and historic preservation in Pittsburgh’s evolving economy.
Founding Pfaffmann + Associates in 1996 allowed Rob to further focus his talents on the regeneration of the city’s urban fabric through a design approach that interweaves concern for history, environment and community. Three projects—the Port Authority’s Gateway Station, Fort Duquesne & Sixth Garage and the Meadowcroft Rockshelter—have been recognized with AIA Pittsburgh Silver Medals, the chapter’s highest award, presented at the jury’s discretion. Each of these innovative projects reflects the importance of buildings that engage people and create a unique sense of place—and each shows Rob’s deep understanding that buildings will adapt and transform long after they are built.
Rob’s work includes numerous public destination buildings, such as new and renovated public libraries, the Powdermill Nature Reserve, and the Meadowcroft Rockshelter. All of which reflect Rob’s skill in interpreting and advancing sustainability and using design and history as pedagogical tools. Rob has led the boards of the Rachel Carson Homestead and the August Wilson House. In this capacity, he has promoted progressive thinking about the role design and environmental performance play at historic sites—protecting the past while connecting to the future. At the root of all of Rob’s efforts is the importance of design quality to capture the spirit of a place and its people. Rob’s leadership skills in design and planning cross a wide range of stakeholders from small neighborhoods to large multidisciplinary civic centers. Foundation leaders often look to Rob for his multidisciplinary skills and collaboration.
His record as a design leader allows him to advocate for better design, economic development and preservation policies for Pittsburgh’s historic neighborhoods. He has advanced progressive design values through his writing, drawings, social media, and civic engagement. He has been recognized as the recipient of the 2011 Grassroots Advocacy Award from Preservation Pennsylvania. A primary subject of his advocacy for preservation has focused on design that leverages authentic and sustainable reuse of challenging structures such as the Civic Arena and The Pittsburgh Produce Terminal. Today, social media has expanded the reach of his work and ideas. Rob Pfaffmann’s approach challenges, inspires and encourages new generations of citizens and architects to critique, speak out and engage.
Notable projects include the planning and design of brownfields and reuse of historic structures, Heinz History Center, Meadowcroft Rockshelter, The Carnegie Library, the Carnegie Museum’s Powdermill Nature Center and the new Gateway Light Rail Station in the center of downtown Pittsburgh.
Current projects include the Forest Hills Municipal Building (a zero energy building) and the transformation and energy retrofit of the historic home of playwright August Wilson into a unique artist residency and event space. His contributions to the profession have been recognized with his induction in 2017 into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.