Assistant Director, CMA
Department of Chemistry
Mellon Institute Bldg.
4400 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2683
The Mellon Institute building was
dedicated in May 1937 by brothers Andrew W. and Richard B. Mellon. It was
erected to house the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.
of the MI Building
Planning for the MI
building began in 1927. From the early stages, the Mellons preferred a
classical style of architecture. They wanted a building which would harmonize
with the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning and nearby St.
Paul's Roman Catholic Cathedral, but "... More importantly, they wanted
the architecture to be a tangible recognition of the link between the science
of the past and the science of the present and future, as exemplified in
their institute's purpose and work. ... they felt that they had found in
ancient Greece not only the beginnings of modern science but also an
architecture that combined ageless, unadorned beauty with a simplicity that
would be appropriate for a home of science."(1)
Covering a city block, the
building is a "display of classical monumental grandeur whose purpose
was to combine beauty with utility."(1) Inspiration for the
limestone and granite building came largely from the Parthenon and from the
small temple of Nike Apteros on the Acropolis. Sixty two monolithic limestone
columns line the four sides of the building, each weighing approximately 62
tons. The columns are over thirty six feet tall, with diameters of
approximately six feet at the bottom and five feet at the top. The sidewalk,
platform and steps are made of granite.
The exterior is not a true
rectangle, but a hollow trapezoid with center and connecting wings forming a
cross. This creates four interior courts which are lined with glazed ivory
terra cotta. Over 1000 windows in these interior courts provide natural light
to the interior offices and laboratories.
retain its classical form, three of the building's eight stories are
constructed underground and the roof is flat. The center sections of the flat
roof are covered with quarry tiles to provide space for weathering and
the fourth floor lobby stand eight monolithic marble columns, and the ceiling
is suspended marble. In all, there are fourteen different kinds of marble
used in the Mellon Institute building, coming from Italy, France, and Belgium
as well as from six sites in the U.S.
aluminum was used in the building than had been previously used in any single
structure. The main elevator doors are of extruded aluminum with ornamental
plaques of cast aluminum. The elevator cabs are a combination of extruded
aluminum and aluminum finished to resemble curley maple and satinwood. The
laboratory doors on the upper floors are made of aluminum, as are the
windows, interior door jambs and trim.
addition to marble and aluminum, many types of beautiful wood are found
throughout the MI building. Woodwork in the original Director's office (now
the Boardroom), the third floor Conference Room, and the library ceiling are
of what was known in 1937 as Slavonian oak. The columns, bookcases, and
standing panels in the fourth floor library are English oak. In what is now
the Computer Training Center (originally a lounge), the walls are made of
American walnut, with panels of satinwood and ebony under the windows. The
frieze panels are inlaid with satinwood, light pearwood, maple and boxwood.
of the wood in the second floor auditorium is avodire, an African wood. Pink
maple, American walnut, boxwood, dark pearwood and ebony are used as accents.
Panels on either side of the room are inlaid with brass and aluminum.
Mellon Institute of Industrial Research
In 1909, Andrew W. and
Richard B. Mellon became aware of the writings of Dr. Robert Kennedy Duncan.
Dr Duncan, a professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, advocated a
partnership between scientific research and industry in order to create new
and better consumer products.
In 1911, the Mellon
brothers established a department of industrial research at the University of
Pittsburgh. This research institute was organized on a contractual basis. A
firm would hire the institute to solve a specific problem; the institute
would then hire an appropriate scientist to do the research. All results
obtained were the property of the contracting firm.
By 1913, the institute had
proved such a success that permanent headquarters were erected on the campus
of the University of Pittsburgh, and dedicated to Robert Kennedy Duncan and
Andrew and Richard's father, Judge Thomas Mellon.
1927, the Mellons incorporated the institute as a nonprofit, independent
research center, and began to plan the erection of a new, larger, and grander
headquarters. The current Mellon Institute Building was dedicated
posthumously in May 1937 to Andrew and Richard Mellon.
Wilson, Cathy A.,
"Building a Temple of Science: Pittsburgh's Mellon Institute," Pittsburgh
History, Winter 1994/95, pp. 150-158.
Clark, Roy, "The
Material Mellon Institute," The Crucible, May 1937, pp. 120-121.