Pittsburgh – Art & Architecture in the Steel City

Pittsburgh – Art & Architecture in the Steel City



This National Trust Tours & International Seminar Design program highlights the exceptional art and architecture of Pittsburgh, a 21st-century “Rust Belt” success story. Pittsburgh was the unquestioned steel capital of the world for most of the 20th century, and the resulting wealth produced a great cultural heritage with impressive architecture from the late 1800s and early 1900s still surviving. Even when the American steel industry collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s, Pittsburgh managed to reinvent itself as a leader in scientific and medical research. The result is a surprisingly young and vibrant city, with new architecture also worth discovering.

Pricing from
Trip Type
Closer to Home, Group Travel Tour
Departure Dates
Sep 24, 2024 - Sep 28, 2024


Omni William Penn Hotel

With a blend of classic elegance and modern sophistication, the renowned Omni William Penn Hotel has served as Pittsburgh’s premier hotel since 1916. This historic hotel features 597 beautifully appointed guestrooms including 38 suites, 52,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and five dining options. The hotel boasts two self-contained conference centers, beauty salon, gift shop, and a jewelry store.

The hotel was designed by renowned Architects Benno Janssen, and Franklin Abbott. It was the last building venture of Henry Clay Frick, one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest industrialists, and completed at a cost of six million dollars. Frick envisioned the William Penn as Pittsburgh’s showplace, designed to rival the great hotels of Europe in Old World style, and with the sophisticated technology offered by the twentieth century. The initial phase of the hotel included 1,000 guestrooms, and an elegant two-tier Grand Ballroom located on the 17th floor. In 1928, construction of the Grant Street Annex addition commenced. Completed in 1929 it added an additional 600 guestrooms as well as the crowning jewel, the Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban. With this addition, the William Penn became the largest hotel between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and a major convention facility for Pittsburgh.

From the early days to present time, the Omni William Penn Hotel continues to hold the stature of Pittsburgh’s “Grande Dame”, and the hotel’s roots in the city remain well grounded. The hotel continues to be a favorite among Pittsburgh’s social scene, and remains a favorite of many dignitaries, movie stars, and important leaders in business and government.

Every seated president since Theodore Roosevelt has visited the hotel, including President Barack Obama.


  • David J. Vater, RA

    David J. Vater, RA

    David Vater is a Pittsburgh native and his ancestors have lived in the region since the 1830s. He is president of his own architectural firm and has served on the Board of Directors of the AIA Pittsburgh’s Foundation for Architecture, the Friends of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline, and Chatham Village Homes, Inc.


Cancellation by participant must be made in writing to ISDI and is effective only upon acknowledged receipt by ISDI. There is a non-refundable registration and planning fee of $500 per person regardless of cancellation date. Written cancellation received by ISDI on or before June 18, 2024: full refund minus $500 per person registration and planning fee. Written cancellation received by ISDI between June 19 and August 12, 2024: full
refund minus $1,800 per person cancellation fee (includes registration and planning fee). Written cancellation received by ISDI on or after August 13, 2023: no refund. Tour registration is non-transferable. In the case of cancellation, substitutions are not allowed. After the tour has commenced, no refunds will be issued for any reason including, but not limited to, unused portions of tour. If the tour is cancelled by ISDI or National Trust Tours due to low enrollment, active registrants will receive a full refund of all tour payments.


  • day 1

    Steel City Architecture

    Transfer independently to the elegant Omni William Penn Hotel, a property of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America program, with a perfect location in Pittsburgh’s Central Downtown Historic District. Set out on a late-afternoon walking tour with Study Leader David Vater, an architect and a Pittsburgh native active in local preservation efforts. Explore the architectural highlights of historic Grant Street and the area surrounding your hotel. Stop at Henry Hobson Richardson’s Allegheny County Courthouse, one of the nation’s most grandiose neo-Romanesque structures; the Frick Building, where the lobby features John LaFarge’s masterful stained glass work “Fortune and Her Wheel”; the Pittsburgh City-County Building, featuring intricate tile work by Rafael Guastavino; the Union Trust Building, with its dramatic stained glass dome skylight; and several other architecturally important sites. Tonight, get to know fellow travelers over a delicious welcome dinner at a historic private social club.

  • day 2

    Gothic Revival & Cultural Gems

    Begin the day with a stroll through the University of Pittsburgh’s urban campus and visit the graceful Heinz Chapel and the soaring Cathedral of Learning, both grand examples of the Gothic Revival architectural style with which Pittsburgh is strongly associated. Tour the Cathedral of Learning’s distinctive Nationality Rooms, each designed to represent an 18th-century classroom in a different country in honor of the diverse immigrant communities that settled in Pittsburgh. Following lunch, take a highlight tour of the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, housed in a historic building featuring lavish architectural spaces. See the Hall of Architecture, the Grand Staircase with its series of murals by John White Alexander, the marble columned foyer of the Music Hall, and select highlights from the fine arts collection.

  • day 3

    Industrial Heritage & the Gilded Age

    Tour the Carrie Blast Furnaces, a remnant of the legendary U.S. Steel Homestead Steel Works. Built in 1884 along the Monongahela River, the Carrie Blast Furnaces are a vestige of Pittsburgh’s 20thcentury domination of the steel industry and has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. Continue to The Frick Pittsburgh, a complex of museums and historical buildings centered around Clayton, the former home of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick. Take a docent-led tour of Clayton, a wonderfully preserved example of Gilded Age architecture and one of the few intact homes from Pittsburgh’s lost “Millionaire’s Row.” Enjoy time to wander through the lush gardens and explore the nearby Frick Art Museum or the Car and Carriage Museum. Following lunch at another historic property along Millionaire’s Row, be welcomed into one of the Pittsburgh area’s most gracious private historic homes, opened exclusively for the National Trust. The owners will discuss the house’s history and the extensive renovations they have made to return it to its original grandeur. Enroute back to the hotel, stop for a picturesque ride on the Duquesne Incline, which began operations in 1877. Disembark atop Mount Washington for stunning panoramic views of Pittsburgh’s dramatic skyline and the convergence of the three rivers below.

  • day 4

    Kentuck Knob & Fallingwater

    Take a day trip into the beautiful Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania to explore two brilliant creations of Frank Lloyd Wright. Begin at Kentuck Knob, a Usonian home designed by Wright in 1953 built using native sandstone and red cypress to blend harmoniously into the surrounding hills. Tour the house and then explore the grounds, dotted with sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Anthony Caro, Claes Oldenburg, and Wendy Taylor, among others. Continue to Wright’s breathtaking Fallingwater, an icon of 20th-century architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring a bold system of cantilevered terraces built directly over a cascading waterfall. Take a docent-led tour of this timeless monument to organic architecture and hear the stories and learn about the techniques behind this massive architectural achievement. Wright also custom-designed all of the house’s furniture, which is still intact. Return to Pittsburgh and reconvene in the evening for a festive farewell dinner at an award-winning local restaurant.

  • day 5


    Transfer independently to the airport for return flights home.

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