Under the Keystone: Portrait of an ironworker

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Standing nearly 30 stories above downtown Pittsburgh, Al Williams — a third-generation ironworker with 36 years of experience — is in his element.

The 54-year-old has logged roughly 70,000 hours working on countless structures around Pittsburgh. That's included PPG Place, Consol Energy Center and the Liberty Bridge. Now he's working on the newest addition to Pittsburgh's skyline, the Tower at PNC Plaza.


Construction on the building began in 2012 and is expected to be completed by fall of 2015. Touted as “the world's greenest office tower,” the 33-story building at 5th Avenue and Wood Street is expected to house offices for 2,200 employees and will serve as world headquarters for the PNC Financial Services Group.




Williams, who lives in Peters Township, Pa., has worked virtually every aspect of his job. He's been on the raising gang, responsible for getting iron beams off the ground and into the air, and on the bolt-up gang, tasked with connecting those beams with heavy-duty bolts. Currently he does the decking, laying down corrugated steel flooring that acts as a form for concrete.


For Williams, who can look out at the city and recall a lifetime of on-the-job memories, being an ironworker comes with its share of pride.


“You're putting up a building so people can work,” Williams said. “It's gotta be done, and not everybody can do it.”


About the author


Ryan Loew is the senior digital content editor for 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR news station. He curates web content and produces multimedia stories for the station.


Ryan previously worked at as a multimedia producer for The Roanoke Times in Virginia. There he produced in-depth stories on topics including the debate over chronic Lyme disease, the treatment of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and the displacement of manufacturing jobs in Southwest and Southside Virginia. Prior to that he worked as a reporter at the Lansing (MI) State Journal.


This story is part of the series: Under the Keystone logo

Under the Keystone

We have an idea that a series of photos and videos of Pennsylvania people might actually help bring the state together and help readers understand what a variety of enthralling and disparate personalities live here.
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