1967, 1974 and 2010

by Michael R. Allen

Whenever the Roberts Tower on Eighth Street downtown is completed, it will have been a long time since any new residential buildings have been built downtown. There is no need to state the obvious, that no tall residential buildings have been built, because there have simply been none. The last new residential building to be built downtown was any one of the three towers of the Mansion House Center on Fourth Street, completed in 1967. Over forty years later, we await the next installment in the very limited and erratic story of downtown apartment building construction. (Our last tall building, the maligned Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse, arrived in 1997.)

The Roberts Tower’s architects are unheralded, and I cannot draw any name when asked who she or he is, or who they are. All I know is that the design is a suitable modern building, disgraced only slightly by the oh-too-silvery reflective glass being used to clad it. While I appreciate the break from the minimalist humdrum that inhibits contemporary architects, I am not impressed with the awkward reference to 1980s postmodern glazing trends. I’ll admit that the greenish reflective glass shown in early renderings of the Roberts Tower would have been no better. At least views of the rear elevation of the Old Post Office will be enshrined in the wall as well as — unfortunately, for the most part — any elements of Old Post Office Plaza that catch the mirrored surface.


On the matter of Old Post Office Plaza, there is no denying that the block is playing out very much like the vision shown in the 1974 Downtown Plan produced by PGAV for the Downtown Partnership. While we did not get the sunken plaza shown in the rendering, we did get a plaza and a narrow concrete tower in line with the south elevation of the Orpheum Theater. Alas, the 1974 plaza looks to be far more humane than what was built. Hopefully the Roberts Tower outshines the tepid hulk envisioned by planners back in the day. Architecture, supposedly the realm of innovation, is more often the repetition of concepts through new expression. That is, it may have been 1967 when downtown’s last high-rise residential building was completed, but forty-three years later have seem to have progressed to 1974. That’s not terrible — Mansion House is still lovely despite some recent muddling.

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  • Anonymous

    The Roberts Tower was designed by St. Louis based Trivers Associates. Not sure who the lead on it was.

  • Kitty

    looks like Trivers designed the Roberts Tower.

  • PeterXCV

    Too bad Roberts Tower is just a hotel expansion of the Mayfair now.

  • bailorg

    "Our last tall building, the maligned Thomas Eagleton Federal Courthouse, arrived in 1997."

    Maligned? Really? I think it is arguably one of the most beautiful and unique tall buildings in St. Louis.

  • The Beautiful Kind

    Love your blog! Congrats on being an RFT fav blogger! Will you be at Happy Hour on Fri?

  • samizdat

    The Eagleton erection is a blight. However, the courtroom configuration is apparently a unique innovation. That is the only positive aspect of this particular example of the recent crop of federal court facilities.

  • john w.

    The project was not originally designed by Trivers… it was taken over by Trivers, which was simply the local architect of record during the design phase of the project. The Design didn't really evolve much while in the care of Trivers, and since the departure of the originating author of the design, which was a Toronto-based architect. Economics often determine who lands projects and control of said projects. Roberts Tower is as much a Trivers project as Gerald Ford was an elected president, and that's not to disparage Trivers. It's simply a clarification to be fair. Credit should be imputed to where due.

  • samizdat

    Ooh, I just realised that the rendering is hand-drawn. I realise that CAD, etc., is more efficient (automated), but the mark of a human hand is more elegant to my eyes. "Roberts Tower is as much a Trivers project as Gerald Ford was an elected president". That's funny.

  • Anonymous

    The building designed by the Toronto firm was in fact very different from the building Trivers designed. It is the Trivers building that is now being built. I have managed the project for Trivers since the beginning. We were originally teamed with the Toronto firm and then took the project over and redesigned it at the owner's request, substantially changing the exterior, adding floors and completely redesigning the interior. If a presidential analogy were to be made, we were the vice president since the election, we were doing all the work, and when the President was impeached we took office and changed the policies that got the president impeached in the first place. I would also like to state that the glass was selected based more on it's performance than aesthetics. To me this is an easy decision as the glass played a huge role in the efficiency of the building. The building was designed to safely achieve a LEED Gold level for core and shell.

  • Michael R. Allen

    TBK: Yes, I will be there today.

  • john w.

    The building designed by the Toronto firm was "very different"…? Really? I don't think so.