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HDG’s Design for Presley’s Place at Pittsburgh International Wins People’s Choice Award at Design Pittsburgh 2019

October 3, 2019

AIA Pittsburgh announced Presley’s Place at Pittsburgh International Airport as the winner of this year’s People’s Choice Award at Design Pittsburgh 2019. AIA Pittsburgh’s Design Awards is a juried design competition that recognizes and honors architects and designers, and promotes excellence, innovation, and achievement in the craft of architecture.  Recent architecture projects are submitted by AIA members and firms whose principals are members of AIA Pittsburgh, as well as AIA members from across the country whose projects were located in the 11-county area to be considered for a variety of award categories. One of these categories is the People’s Choice Award, which is chosen by popular vote.


HDG’s Jennifer Beck, AIA and Matt Dawson with the AIA People’s Choice Award at Design Pittsburgh 2019

According to AIA Pittsburgh, this year’s People’s Choice Award received a record number of votes, with Presley’s Place the winner “by a landslide”.  The project was designed by Hayes Design Group Architects (or HDG), whose expertise includes public and private schools and children’s educational environments. Presley’s Place is named after the son of airport heavy equipment operator Jason Rudge, who originally pitched the idea to Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO, Christina Cassotis, through an employee suggestion box. That simple suggestion led to the design and construction of a multi-room sensory space that serves as a respite for travelers with autism and other sensory processing issues, and their traveling companions, who may have a need to de-stress while traveling. Pittsburgh International joins several other airports in the United States that already have sensory rooms, but Pittsburgh’s space isn’t just a room, it is an entire sensory-friendly suite, perhaps, as the Airport Authority has suggested, “one of the world’s largest airport sensory spaces”.

The 1,500-square-foot suite contains a family room, three individual rooms, a quiet room and an airplane experience room, which contains real airline seats, overhead bins, and working lights. The project also included a new sensory-friendly companion care/family restroom located nearby with a sink and an adult changing table that are both height-adjustable. Careful design work was necessary in order for the space to calm all of the senses, while also considering the differing needs of both children and adults. These design considerations were based on a strong understanding of how the autistic brain functions, and included:

  • A variety of tactile, touchable surfaces, including a custom wainscot
  • Fully adjustable overhead LED lighting softened using acrylic “cloud covers”
  • Acoustic solutions addressing partitions, sliding doors, and ceilings, and the use of absorptive wall panels
  • Use of sustainable, odor-free materials
  • Incorporation of smaller rooms for silence or privacy
  • Custom-built “sensory support nooks” that feature bubble tubes and LED fiber-optic tunnels, offering calming sounds and visual stimulation
  • Soft surfaces throughout the space

Presley’s Place is located in Terminal A of Pittsburgh International’s airside terminal, near Gate A9.

HDG’s Matt Dawson, Jennifer Beck, AIA, Kristy Costanzo, AIA, and Kayla Barko, Associate AIA, at the 2019 Design Awards (Photo Credit: Jason Cohn)














The Project Team for Presley’s Place included:

Client: Allegheny County Airport Authority
Architecture Firm: Hayes Design Group Architects
Contractor: Allegheny County Airport Authority
Engineer: A&F Engineering
Numerous Other Consultants & Partners Including:

  • Allegheny County Airport Authority Charitable Foundation
  • American Airlines
  • Autism Connection of Pennsylvania
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
  • Corbett Interiors
  • Dan Taylor Interiors
  • Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust
  • FISA Foundation
  • Hillman Family Foundations
  • IAM Local Lodge 1976
  • Magee Plastics
  • MAX-Ability
  • Supertint
  • XYZ Custom

For more photos of this project, visit:

Congratulations to all of the winners from Design Pittsburgh 2019! See the winning projects here:



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