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December 09, 2019

Reppe Is Carnegie Mellon’s Master Planner

By Bruce Gerson

As a child growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bob Reppe loved building model towns with Legos and working on his father’s electric trains. Today, he’s a cornerstone and conductor of Carnegie Mellon University’s growing campus master plan.

“I’ve been building since I was 2 years old. Every year for Christmas I got homemade pajamas and a Legos set. I’ve always been interested in building and doing things,” he said.

As senior director of planning and design, Reppe has played a leading role in a dozen major campus renovation and construction projects during his 14 years in Campus Design and Facility Development. His portfolio includes the Gates and Hillman centers, Scott Hall, the Cohon University Center addition, the Hamburg Hall renovation, the Tepper School building, the recently completed ANSYS Hall and the Tata Consultancy Services building, which is set to open this spring.

“What’s great about this job is that you see big ideas come to fruition. I see it through the planning and design process, I see it evolve and I see it get built,” he said.

The planning and design process for a building is long and complex, Reppe said, and requires much collaboration among many stakeholders, from faculty, staff and students to architects, neighborhood groups, construction companies and Pittsburgh agencies such as City Council, the Planning Commission, review boards and utility companies.  

“The Tepper Quad project took 5½ years to complete,” he said. “That shows you how long the planning takes. It takes a lot of minds and a lot of collaboration among entities to form and execute a plan.”

“What’s great about this job is that you see big ideas come to fruition.”

Reppe said the Tepper Quad project has been his most challenging.

“Tepper was a once-in-a-lifetime project. It changed the campus, and probably is one of my favorites,” he said.

Reppe and the CDFD team think of themselves as translators.

“We’re translating what construction means to a faculty member who needs a new lab. We’re translating faculty and student needs to architects and designers, and we’re translating the design to the city for permits. We’re the lynchpin in making all those things happen for all those disparate groups and interests. It’s an interesting world of bringing everyone together,” he said. 

In addition to his Pittsburgh campus dossier, Reppe has helped to manage the design process for university buildings in Rwanda, China and Silicon Valley.

“We’re making sure the buildings carry CMU’s DNA,” he said. “We want the facilities to align with our brand and foster interdisciplinary collaboration and interconnectedness. We want the buildings to feel and look like they are Carnegie Mellon buildings.”

Reppe is currently working on plans for a new Health & Wellness Center at the Skibo Gym site and new residence halls at Fifth Avenue and Clyde Street, Fifth and Neville Street, and Forbes Avenue and Beeler Street.  

“I like working for the greater good. What we’re doing here is changing the world. It’s exciting to be part of that and to help enable that to happen. That makes me excited to come to work every day,” he said.

“We are working on the shoulders of giants like Henry Hornbostel and Michael Dennis, incredible architects and designers who have created these quality buildings that are built to last 100 years. Not everybody does that.”  

As these new projects get underway, Reppe will soon begin work on an updated campus master plan to succeed CMU’s 2012 blueprint. The new campus master plan, which must be presented to the city for approval by April 2022, is a 10-year guidebook of future construction projects.

“I like working for the greater good. What we’re doing here is changing the world.” 

In compiling the new master plan, Reppe will be holding many town halls and meetings with various campus stakeholders to discuss opportunities to renovate and expand. More than 90 meetings were held prior to completing the 2012 master plan.

“It all takes time, but it’s super important. We have a commitment to doing things correctly. We’re going to tell people what we’re going to do. They might not agree, but we want them to know about it,” he said. 

Since his junior year in high school, Reppe knew he wanted to be a city planner. He received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth in urban planning and international relations, and earned his master’s degree in urban design at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1996, he joined the City of Pittsburgh as an urban designer under Mayor Tom Murphy.

In 10 years at the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, Reppe helped to create master building plans for the Hill District, Southside Works and the North Shore, which included PNC Park and Heinz Field. He took the lead on the Somerset at Frick Park housing development.

Reppe spends much of his free time enjoying Frick Park and, of course, tinkering with home projects. An outdoorsman, he enjoys snow skiing, swimming, biking, running and soccer — he’s coached his son’s youth team for 15 years. And he still builds with Legos.

“My wife got me a Lego set for my 50th birthday,” he said. “It’s a Boba Fett’s Slave 1 collector set. Very cool.”

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