Pittsburgh’s newest trendy coworking space may owe its existence to an Uber driver’s wrong turn. When Brian Faherty, founder of Portland, Oregon–based Schoolhouse, was paying a site visit to Pittsburgh’s Ace Hotel, where his company had designed some lighting, he stumbled upon an architectural gem: “While we were in Pittsburgh, we were looking for a potential space for retail or distribution, something in addition to our store in Tribeca, and really were looking for something akin to what we have in Portland, like a brick turn-of-the-century factory,” Faherty tells AD PRO.
“Several Uber rides later, the driver went too far and dropped me off a few blocks away from the hotel. I looked up and saw this building amongst these vacant parking lots. It was this stunning Brutalist, new Formalist style, all boarded up. I thought, What’s going on with this place?”
This place, it turns out, was the long-abandoned former home of the Pittsburgh police department, dubbed the Detective Building for the employees it housed. Though the building had long been boarded up, as luck would have it, Faherty knew someone who could get him inside: Matthew Ciccone, CEO of Pittsburgh coworking company Beauty Shoppe and a longtime neighbor of the building, who was a partner on the Ace Hotel project.
“This is a building I’ve watched for a long time,” Ciccone says. “Before Brian came, no one knew what to do with it. It was really interesting to see someone show up with a really different perspective on a building.”
With coworking a booming business in today’s gig economy, Faherty says, “I wanted to learn more about their business. I thought it would be a really good partnership. Three years later, that was the case.”
Now the building is officially open as a coworking space, café—and a retail outpost for Schoolhouse. “For us, it was an interesting opportunity to work with a brand we admire and is a visionary on something really special in our own backyard,” says Ciccone. “It allowed us to push our perspective on what office space is today.”
Schoolhouse’s focus on craftsmanship paired well with Beauty Shoppe’s track record of working with local artists and crafters on its thoughtfully designed spaces (the company has locations in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit). Pittsburgh-based Bones and All created custom tables and desks for the coworking space, which is hung with work from local artists.
Both companies also share a penchant for location-specific designs, an ethos that—coupled with the fact that the building had been abandoned with everything from office supplies to mug shots left inside—made for endless creative potential at the Detective Building.
“Our product development team did a great job figuring out how to use a lot of the existing materials that were there, bringing a certain percentage of found things back into the project while breathing new life into them,” says Faherty.
Parts rescued from some of the hundreds of steel tank desks in the space went into new tables, for example, and the shape of another style of swing-top desk became the inspiration for a large-scale artwork. “It was the spirit of what was there but in a new way,” Faherty explains.
It’s an approach that Ciccone sees as the future of coworking. “Coworking has gotten to a point where people expect more,” he says. “If you’d asked in the past what you need in a workspace, people might just say, you know, Internet. I think at this point, having a design-focused space, with an authentic collaboration, is the standard. It really makes that an inspiring place to go to work.”
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