It’s a building within a building, a classroom within Construction Junction. It’s Project RE_,  a program of the Urban Design Build Studio (UDBS) of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture and a partnership with Construction Junction and the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh. And according to CMU architecture professor John Folan, the mission of Project RE_ is to “reuse materials, rebuild communities and restore lives” (the RE_ is left open to those varied interpretations).

Project RE_  includes a community room, a design studio, gallery, a mobile digital fabrication lab, and workshops for wood, metal and masonry in its 10,000-square-foot space. And the design has caught the attention of the American Institute of Architects, winning awards for design and innovation from both regional and state AIA chapters, including AIA Pittsburgh.

“This city you’ll inherit is different than it was just a few years ago,” Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto told the gathering of students. “With this kind of shared vision, we can create new things, and preserve things that are important.”

Each partner in the project brings necessary skills to the table, Folan says. Construction Junction provides the materials, from various deconstruction projects. The students of the UDBS then try to determine ways to reimagine their use, and collaborate with apprentices from TIP, a program that trains formerly incarcerated men and women to give them construction and masonry skills. Project RE_ will serve as a training platform for many of TIP’s apprentices.

Inside Project RE from Michael Savisky on Vimeo.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the collaboration was a sign of the region’s ability to unite around a common purpose. “That’s the Pittsburgh region’s secret sauce, how we can all bring talent and skill to the table to move things forward.”

Folan was involved in a similar effort while running a design-build program at the University of Arizona. His undergraduate students worked with teens coming out of juvenile corrections programs. That effort proved valuable for both sets of students, he says, giving the teenagers a sense of opportunity available to them, and giving the undergrads a better appreciation of the social significance of the work.

Courtesy AIA Pittsburgh.

Courtesy AIA Pittsburgh.

One of the first materials Project RE_  dealt with, oddly enough: church pews. Pews are one of the most common building components handled by Construction Junction, Folan says, and the UDBS students worked with TIP to develop a method of processing the wood so it could be used in construction.

“These pews and the other materials integrated into the design of Project RE_ might otherwise go to landfills, but we’re looking at ways to repurpose them,” Folan explains.

Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, a partner in Project RE_ said he loved the reuse theme. “It does not assume that we live in a world of givers and receivers, but that we all give and receive,” Oliphant said. “We’re a party here to reinventing our community.”