An Open Door to Pittsburgh's Architectural Treasures
Founded two years ago by Bonnie Baxter, Doors Open Pittsburgh gives participants a behind-the-scenes look at some of the city's most interesting buildings and homes.
photo courtesy doors open pittsburgh
Bonnie Baxter used to be a successful corporate employee in advertising — but she left it all to explore her love of architecture.
In August 2016, Baxter founded Doors Open Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that aims to stimulate the exploration and appreciation of a Pittsburgh’s architecture, history, design heritage and cultural assets. During that first year, the two-day event only toured Downtown. Today, it features 19 tours of 48 buildings in neighborhoods throughout the city, allowing audiences the opportunity to appreciate architectural marvels they may not usually get to visit.
This year's event — featuring the Boggs Mansion on the North Side, the Dollar Bank on Fourth Avenue and the Frick Building, Downtown — takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 6-7.
Baxter, 60, is Doors Open Pittsburgh's executive director and its only full-time employee — but her workload resembles that of a multi-employee operation. Baxter is responsible for finding sponsorship and grants for financial support, training up to 400 volunteers to guide attendees through tours, managing the Doors Open website and working with building managements to get their structures involved in the tour.
“There’s really nothing that happens through Doors Open that doesn’t come across my dining room table,” Baxter says. “I kind of am the organization … this is my full-time job, because honestly there’s frankly no other way of doing it.”
Baxter is passionate about all the work — and it’s why she left her job in advertising. Before moving to Pittsburgh in 2016, she came across a similar event in Chicago that sparked her interest.
“After attending that for the entire weekend, we visited like 20 buildings, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing,’” Baxter says. “I was so taken with that sort of experience, that level of experience inside these buildings, while attending the event in Chicago, it just really resonated with me.”
She knew she wanted to bring an event like this to Pittsburgh, so she took a break from corporate America and threw herself completely into Doors Open, spending about $13,000 on the first event and donating more than 3,000 hours of her time. Her passion for design and architecture, however, made it worth the cost, she says.
“I’m a little bit of a building junkie. I’m not a trained architect … but I can appreciate a built structure for what it is,” Baxter says. “It’s a great time … to get inside of these buildings and let the buildings kind of tell [attendees] about the past, present and future of our community.”
Doors Open Pittsburgh features three different experiences. Insider tours, which are traditional thematic tours guided by experts of the particular theme of the tour, the general event, which allows anyone with a general pass to access any of the 48 buildings on the 2018 list, and DOP at the square, an exhibitor space featuring artists from a variety of different mediums, including theater, photography and fine art.
The 2018 building list includes distinguished places such as the Office of the Mayor, the Pittsburgh City-County Building and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Also included are lesser-known — but equally engaging — buildings such as the Katsafanas Coffee Building, the Mattress Factory Artist Residence and the offices of MacLachlan Cornelius & Filoni Architects.
What started as a personal hobby for Baxter has turned into an advocacy project to get more people to appreciate the architecture that surrounds them every day. Her hope is the event will inspire attendees to think about the past, present and future development of their communities.
“I’m just hellbent on getting as many people involved and engaged with our landscape as possible, because we really have some amazing treasures from an architectural standpoint,” she says.
To find out more about the event, or to purchase tickets, visit the Doors Open website.