News Column

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Eric Heyl column

August 24, 2014

By Eric Heyl, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Aug. 24--Works of art should be treasured, not tread on.

If you owned a Warhol, you wouldn't encourage people to walk on it, even if they took off their shoes first. Nor would you invite people to drag items weighing 50 pounds or more across your painting.

The reason is obvious, beyond not wanting people to think you're peculiar. The painting quickly would be ruined, and the value of your investment would be greatly diminished.

It's puzzling that Allegheny County Airport Authority officials have difficulty grasping this concept.

The authority announced on Wednesday that it has commissioned a $4 million public art project that will be the Airside Terminal's first major construction update since the airport opened more than two decades ago.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Clayton Merrell will design a terrazzo floor with murals to replace the existing gray tiles, which are cracking. The floor will feature five Pittsburgh scenes: Downtown, South Side, Oakland, North Shore and the Carrie Furnace site in Rankin.

Merrell is calling his work "The Sky Beneath Our Feet." The floor having its own name likely will make anonymous flooring in other American airports insanely jealous, but is this multimillion-dollar expense a wise investment or unnecessary extravagance?

Car rental kiosk employees might disagree, but the two most important components of any airport are airlines and passengers. Authority officials appear to harbor the unrealistic hope that reactions to the public art project will be something like this:


United Airlines flunky: "Sir, did you hear? Pittsburgh International is putting expensive murals into its new tiled terminal flooring."

CEO Jeff Smisek: "Holy cow! With all the additional passengers that move will generate, we'll have to rethink our recent decision to eliminate daily nonstop service between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles."


"Honey, what airport shall we use for our upcoming Orlando trip?"

"Well, the lowest fares can be found at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, which also offers free parking. But that place doesn't have specially commissioned murals that you can walk on, so let's pay considerably more and fly out of Pittsburgh International."

To summarize: The airport authority is spending $4 million for artwork that millions of passengers annually will walk on and drag baggage over, thus calling into question its longevity.

While aesthetically pleasing, the flooring benefits neither the airport's passengers nor its airlines.

That authority officials signed off on this expensive project begs an extremely significant question.

Shouldn't they first have perused the tile offerings at Lowe's?

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or


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Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)

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