Robot City, Pittsburgh

Robot City is a brownfield site in Pittsburgh, a railway roundhouse and abandoned cokeworks that once served as handmaiden to America's industrial revolution. Carnegie Mellon University plans to develop a high-tech robot testing site there for its Field Robotics Center. Though currently serving more as a graveyard than a city, it already lives up to its name in another way: it's an industrial adventure playground. I got a tour of this wonderful ruin on Saturday, and took some photos. Read on after the jump.
Award-winning autonomous vehicles reside in one large workshop, built in Robot City's railway roundhouse. There's plenty of inexplicable items in there.
The larger adjacent workshop houses numerous robotic vehicles, and a testing area designed to model lunar regolith. Most of Robot City's industrial environment has been half-reclaimed by plants, all of it brightly-colored in the fall. You'll be seeing more of Pittsburgh's uniquely post-apocalyptic charm when The Road hits movie screens. The floor, as it happens, is quite clean. A replica lunar lander (not real gold!) served in research that will come to fruition with the next-generation of interplanetary robots.
In a vast adjacent building, light seeps in through green-tinted windows. The atmosphere is uncanny. DSC_0501 Guarding the entrance is this monumental statue of a robot steelworker. I don't know the artist's name. Pipes! This place would make a fantastic movie set or level in a shoot-em-up game. About 3 pixels of gaussian blur away from being a fantastic loft apartment, I'd say. The coke plant's been closed for about 10 years: long enough to be thoroughly derelict, not quite long enough to be swept clean. Delicious, delicious polychlorinated biphenyls. "The wet bar" Just like a pipe organ, but with smelting fumes. The sheer scale of everything was astounding: you really could fit an entire city inside these halls. Another of the mysterious guardian robot steelworkers. And their companions. The building goes on and on and on... Some hallways are darker than others: picking my way to the sunlit area in this one wasn't entirely stress-free. No grues, thankfully. Hi-res versions of all these are at Flickr. Dean Putney and Ian Norman accompanied me on the trip (organized by Maryanna) and have awe-inspiring photos of their own. This one, "Echoes of a Resonance Cascade," was made using a long exposure, painting light with an iPhone set to flash full-screen neon colors:

About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Try your luck at  
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13 Responses to Robot City, Pittsburgh

  1. toxonix says:

    w00t thats hot. I’d live there. I could be like Gollum.

  2. Scuba SM says:

    “Ah spy’s sappin’ my steel industry!”


    I would be very interested to know how many video game designers/artists have visited sites like these first hand, and how much it influences what they create. It’s one thing to imagine a crumbling industrial wasteland, but I’m very surprised at how closely the feeling and colors match.

  3. Joel Johnson says:


  4. Anonymous says:

    As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh and remembers when these facilities held thousands of workers I can say it’s a sad testament to the times when factories like this sit decaying while we are forced to buy our steel from overseas. As a country we used to pride in our independence, but over the past 50 years we have turned the United States over from being a producer of goods to a consumer, indebted to countries like China where new factories like this one are being built everyday. We couldn’t learn from that, though, we have now outsourced almost every job that used to mark this country as unique and creative. The only well paying jobs which aren’t in danger of moving away are politicians, lawyers, and upper level management. Sure, we may have more jobs than we used to, but most of the new jobs are in McDonalds, Walmart, and low level service jobs. Even hi-tech companies outsource jobs so that their greedy CEOs can take home ridiculous paychecks. As has been mentioned before, the reign of the US as a world powerhouse is neigh at an end.

  5. Rob Beschizza says:

    That door probably opens to a steel gantry plunging deep into a steam-filled basement inhabited by rust pixies.

  6. wiredfu says:

    It looks like a map right out of Team Fortress 2, complete with Red and Blue bases.

  7. Dean says:

    Nice. All around a good day I’d say.

  8. Scuba SM says:

    I agree with WiredFu, but it also looks very similar to HL2. That would be incredibly fun to explore for myself.

  9. Anonymous says:

    looks like fallout3…

  10. SamSam says:

    Thank you — great photo essay.

  11. HeatherB says:

    My camera takes super pictures.

  12. Stefan Jones says:

    Where in Pittsburgh izzit?

    I went to CMU and passed by the robotics buildings every morning.

    A friend and I once posted fake “crime watcher” posters warning people about robots holding up people for their Indian box lunches.

  13. airship says:

    My father and grandfather both worked their entire lives for the railroad; I worked 14 years in a factory, and a couple more where I visited steel mills. There is nothing more awe-inspiring that a huge, decaying industrial facility. For those of you who have led boring suburban lives working in cubicles, you owe it to yourself to find one and have a look.

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