Design Review

Design review is an important part of the permitting process in the Department of City Planning. Architects and developers work with staff to help ensure high-quality development in Pittsburgh. Successful design improves quality of life, enhances neighborhood character and provides economic and environmental benefits.


Projects that Require Design Review

Pittsburgh's Zoning Code requires design review for many types of projects, based on size and zoning district. All projects requiring Site Plan Review and a Development Review Application must undergo design review. Specifically, these projects include:

  • New and renovated commercial construction
  • New residential construction of four or more units
  • High wall signs
  • Projects which require Site Plan Review, Project Deveopment Plan review, and Final Land Development Plans
  • Projects located Downtown
  • Projects required by the Zoning Code or the Zoning Administrator


Design Review Process

Applicants should begin the design review process at an early stage of project development when changes in the project can still be made. To begin, applicants complete a Zoning and Development Review (ZDR) application on OneStopPGH. Applicants can also set up a pre-application meeting on OneStopPGH with zoning and design staff to discuss the project and approval process. The extent of the design review process can vary depending on the scale and scope of the project, necessary review, and what urban design issues or criteria are present in the project.


Reference material

Your proposed project may have design guidelines or review criteria as part of an adopted Neighborhood Plan or Zoning District:


Submission Requirements

The materials required to start design review depend on the scope and size of the project. For example, exterior alterations of an existing building may not require perspectives or renderings. Please submit as much as possible of the following items with your Zoning & Development Review applicaiton on OneStopPGH:

  • Written Project Summary
  • Site Location Map (showing a neighborhood block scale)
  • Site Context Plan (showing neighboring properties, structures, street names)
  • Site Plan
  • Photos of surrounding context with labels
  • Building elevations with existing and proposed materials labeled
  • Landscaping plan with proposed materials and species labeled
  • Furnishings and Site Amenities
  • Perspectives and renderings showing the proposed project in context
  • Sidewalk level perspectives
  • Massing studies


Staff Design Review Process

All Design Reivew starts at the staff level. After a Development Review Application is filed, City Planning design staff and the appropriate neighborhood planner make an initial evaluation of the project using information submitted by the applicant. During this initial review, City Planning design staff develops a list of Urban Design Targets for the project. The goals are specific to the project but are broad, not prescriptive, and serve as a checklist for the applicant. Urban Design Targets guide the project throughout the review process, although a project may meet some of the goals on initial submission. In developing each set of targets, staff draws from relevant master plans and design guidelines.

At this stage, City Planning design staff determines what type of further design review is necessary, either staff design review or the Contextual Design Advisory Panel (CDAP) review. If CDAP review is recommended, see additional information here.

If a project continues with staff review, the project representative meets with staff and works to address the project's urban design targets. The process is complete when the applicant has met all the design-related zoning requirements and addressed the design targets to the fullest extent possible.