Cutting-Edge Learning in a Beautiful Ruin

The MuseumLab at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh brings cutting-edge learning to a rehabilitated, historic space.


In 2006, the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny was struck by lightning, causing a 3-ton chunk of granite to crash through the roof. In the aftermath of the calamity, the building stood vacant for more than 10 years. As of last year, however, the historic North Side landmark has been repurposed into the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MuseumLab (, a space for young people to explore the limits of creative expression through art, tech and maker learning.

The cutting-edge, in-depth activities at MuseumLab — admission to which is include with a Children’s Museum ticket — are geared toward guests ages 10 and up, but all families are encouraged to visit. Parents should visit if only to marvel at the building’s renovations, which began in January 2018.

Dubbed a “beautiful ruin” by Principal Architect Julie Eizenberg, MuseumLab features much of the original 1890s architecture: soaring arches, banks of windows, mosaic tile floors and a stunning terra cotta entryway. As Bill Schlageter of the Children’s Museum describes, it is “a unique space that honors the past and welcomes the future with open arms.”

MuseumLab will be feted at this month’s SXSW EDU Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, as a finalist for Learn By Design, a prize for imaginative and impactful designs for physical learning environments.

A new art installation is coming this spring — and guests can not only touch but explore and lounge on it. The installation, called Gymlacium, uses a traditional bobbin lace technique that artist Manca Ahlin learned as a child in Slovenia. In Ahlin’s innovative design, ropes of various materials and sizes will transform the former Carnegie Library’s original steel bookshelves (known as “The Stacks”) into a sprawling maze of organic shapes, which will feature bridges, ladders and hammocks.

(Jessica Sinichak contributed reporting.)

Categories: The 412