Schoolhouse Electric made a name for themselves by reinventing classic lighting designs for today. It’s not surprising then, that they undertook an ambitious project when creating their Pittsburgh store. Named “The Detective Building” in honor of its previous tenants, the detectives with the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Investigations, the building is a rare representation of New Formalism, an architectural movement that proliferated in the 1960s and 70s.
Schoolhouse founder Brian Faherty says, “For me, the most difficult part was coming to an understanding of what the building wanted to be. The building didn’t have a very long life before we purchased it, but the materials it was made from could last for a very long time, and we wanted to honor that. Once we figured all of that out, we had to convince our partners in the project of our vision and that our approach was the right one.”
While the team at Schoolhouse had a clear vision, finding the right partner to bring that to life wasn’t simple. Brian says, “I met with many architects. The first one said “wouldn’t it be great to put this big open staircase? Something new, something dramatic?” But we wanted to keep it more original than that. It was difficult to find people who understood the vision. The architect was there really just to document the building, in a manner of speaking. We needed them to tell the contractors what needed done. We chose Moss Architects because they were comfortable with that role.”
Plus, they had inherited more than just the bones of the building. It still had many original furnishings intact. “We also wanted to do right by the objects that were originally found in the building. We wanted to fold in what was there—the desks, the chairs, the phone booths, parts off tables and chairs. Folding all that stuff in was harder than approaching a designer to outfit the space with new products from the ground up. It’s hard to do because you’re transforming things, and that’s harder than buying something that’s new.
At 38,000 square feet, the space is large for retail, but much smaller than Schoolhouse’s Portland flagship. Brian says, “The experience starts outside, where we put a lot of work into perfecting the landscape architecture. That was a big part of the original New Formalism movement, so we wanted to make sure it had that cool, modern institutional feeling you associate with architecture of the era.”
The ground floor retail shares space with a cafe called The Bureau from local chef Joey Hilty. The top three floors are a coworking space from Pittsburgh-based The Beauty Shoppe, but of course are kitted out with Schoolhouse products, including products from their Fall 2018 launch which Brian says was designed with lots of little nods to the Detective Building and Pittsburgh. “We brought back the original tanker desks and added special touches like maple plywood cubicles, pickled cedar walls, and a custom version of our Luna LED pendants. We wanted the whole building to have the vibe of an office from the 1960s or 1970s, but designed and oriented around contemporary working needs.”
See a tour of The Detective Building in the slideshow!