Architects Green Space Missouri National Register

Springfield’s Park Central Square Contested

by Michael R. Allen

The Springfield News-Leader reports on the issues surrounding Park Central Square in downtown Springfield, Missouri. Supposedly designed by famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin but remodeled in the the years since its 1969 construction, the park is at the center of a dispute between city government.  The city wants to redesign the park and preservationists want to restore the original design. The original design, however, is also contested — some claim Halprin was not the architect of the plan that actually was built.

Because the city is using federal funding for their redesign, a section 106 review has been triggered. Section 106 reviews, mandated by the 1966 federal Historic Preservation Act, are administered by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and serve the purpose of determining whether sites impacted by federal spending are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. SHPO’s ruling here could determine what the park will end up looking like. If SHPO determines the park is eligible for listing, and advocates for its preservation can get it listed on the National Register, the city’s plans could be derailed.

Architects Central West End Preservation Board

Preservation Board Meets Tomorrow to Consider Modern Houses on Westminster, Other Items

by Michael R. Allen

The city’s Preservation Board meets tomorrow. The agenda is available with full reports. The agenda features the usual preliminary review of new construction in historic districts, another case of vinyl windows being installed without a permit and several nominations to the National Register of Historic Places (including two on which I am co-author with Carolyn Toft). There are no demolition permits on this month’s agenda.

Perhaps the most interesting agenda item concerns 4257 and 4263 Westminster in the Central West End, where architect and Preservation Board member Anthony Robinson seeks to build two very modern houses.

The meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. in the offices of the Planning and Urban Design Agency, 1015 Locust Street on the 12th floor.

Architects Mayor Slay Old North People

MayorSlay Talks with John Burse’s latest podcast subject is my neighbor, architect John Burse. In his interview, John shares thoughts about the uniqueness of Old North St. Louis, what makes neighborhoods unique (and what makes others contrived), revitalizing the Gateway Mall and other things.  Listen here.

Architects Events Mid-Century Modern

Harris Armstrong Lives On

by Michael R. Allen

Instead of sitting at my desk working through lunch on Friday, at the urging of two friends I headed to Webster University to catch architect Andrew Raimist’s slide lecture on Harris Armstrong. While I knew a fair amount about Armstrong before Friday, most of it was through facts gleaned from books and Raimist’s own writing.

Armstrong’s various work spread across the mid-century make so much more sense when explained by Raimist, who has a wonderful mix of true insight and eager passion for his subject. Raimist’s narration against the backdrop of beautiful images projected screen-size make for a compelling hour and for a much more vivid examination of Harris Armstrong than can be found in any other way.

Thankfully, Raimist has published a large amount of his research on Armstrong and an equally vast amount of images. While this is more linear offering than the lecture, these are formidable resources in their own right. After all, few St. Louis architects have bona fide biographers, let alone anyone as intense as Andrew Raimist.

Please visit his websites:

  • Architectural Ruminations (blog)
  • Raimist’s Flickr page (photos)
  • Categories
    Architects Downtown

    The Presence of Taylor and Enders

    by Michael R. Allen

    Stand at the corner of Eleventh and Washington streets in downtown St. Louis, and face north. On your right, across a parking lot, is the Catlin-Morton Building, built in 1901. Ahead, across another parking lot, is the Hadley-Dean Building, built in 1903. To your right, at the northeast corner, is the Bee Hat Company Building, built in 1899. On your immediate right is the robust Merchandise Mart Building (originally the Liggett and Myers Building), built in 1888-9.

    As you scan these buildings, you will notice similarities: heights around seven stories tall, deft articulation of the masonry walls of the buildings, repeated arches, Classical Revival ornament balanced with modern forms. The bearing-wall Merchandise Mart has to be the finest Romanesque Revival building downtown, and the Hadley-Dean’s austerity anticipates the arrival of modernism in St. Louis.

    However, these buildings share something more fundamental: the same architect, or perhaps architects. These buildings were designed by the prolific Isaac Taylor and his chief draftsman, Oscar Enders.

    In a downtown marked by demolition, it seems rather fortuitous to the legacy of Taylor and Enders that their buildings remain such a strong presence. On the 1000 block of Washington, the Merchandise Mart occupied the entire southern side of the block while the north side, including the later Dorsa Building, is book-ended by Taylor and Enders’ designs of the Bee Hat Company Building and the Sullivan (alter Curlee) Building at Tenth and Washington, built in 1899.

    Of course, other Taylor and Enders works have not been so blessed; the Columbia Buidling at Eighth and Locust was cut down to two stories in 1977, and the Silk Exchange Building at the southwest corner of Tucker and Washington burned and was demolished in 1995.

    Architects Architecture Green Space

    Statement on Government Hill

    by Michael R. Allen

    At a special meeting on July 31, 2006, the Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis considered preliminary approval of a redesign of Government Hill in Forest Park. The Board unanimously approved a revised proposal submitted by Forest Park Forever. I submitted this statement.

    I want to offer some comments about the Government Hill proposal being considered by the Preservation Board today.

    On June 30, after the Preservation Board decided to defer consideration on preliminary approval a radical revision of Government Hill, Mayor Slay wrote in his blog that “there’s time” for more consideration and public input on the redesign.

    When the Preservation Board agenda for the July meeting was released, myself and others were relieved that Government Hill was not on the agenda. It seemed that Forest Park Forever had heeded the call of the Preservation Board and the Mayor to give such a major proposal regarding a much-loved landscape ample time for revision and comment.

    Then, last night when I read the mayor’s campaign website, I saw a notice that there would be a special Preservation Board meeting today at 4:30 p.m. to consider the matter of a revised proposal from Forest Park Forever and others for revisions to Government Hill. While there may have been some warning elsewhere, it was the first I had heard of the meeting and I had less than 24 hours to review the plans and provide commentary.

    Earlier, I had assumed that myself and others concerned about the matter — including members of the Board — could study the issue and provide measured testimony at a future hearing. Apparently, that will not happen. I am disappointed in this hasty process, and disappointed that I cannot attend today’s meeting due to previously-scheduled appointments. Had I know sooner, even on a week’s notice, I would have made plans to attend the meeting.

    As it is, I can barely offer commentary on the new proposal based on the abstract plans contained in the report of the staff of the Cultural Resources Office. The plan seems to be more respectful of the original design, but since no renderings are enclosed it is nearly impossible to tell.

    The existing landscape, designed by noted landscape architect George Kessler around 1911, is a stunning example of the “City Beautiful” era of Beaux-Arts formalism. Some of the landscape designs from that period have not held up well as gathering places, due to aesthetic programs that look better than they function. Not so with Kessler’s Government Hill design, which seems to get more popular as time goes by. His grand staircases, central fountain and terraces amid sloping hills create an inviting context with a scale that is respectful of both the World’s Fair Pavilion and the users of Forest Park.

    The only flaws in this landscape are the lack of universal accessibility and the lack of maintenance. The new proposal seems to take a good step in addressing accessibility without intruding on the existing landscape. The plan unveiled in June was little more than a giant zigzag ramp, based on intriguing medieval designs but totally inappropriate for the site. In terms of restoration, it seems that the new plan is more sensitive to the Kessler design but still aiming to remake it according to modern designs.

    That’s where the first plan for rebuilding Government Hill is better; if something new is going to happen, it should be complementary to the landscape of the park and a compelling and original design in itself. The proposal being considered today is not compelling or original, but the Kessler design even in its decay remains so.

    I urge the Preservation Board to deny preliminary approval, and to urge Forest Park Forever to consider funding the restoration project that the wonderful Government Hill landscape deserves. If they seek a grand gesture or some other imprint on the park, they need not worry. Their restoration work to date has been one of the grandest civic gestures in recent history, and a sensitive restoration of Government Hill would be an excellent capstone.

    Architects Louis Sullivan

    Considering Wright

    by Michael R. Allen

    In “A Case Against Frank Lloyd Wright: Architect”, Toby Weiss makes a brilliant entry into the ongoing debate on the historical importance of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The essay spends a lot of time investigating the reconstruction work needed to keep his landmark works watertight and structurally sound.

    Toby’s points resonate with me to great extent. While I remain fascinated with the aesthetic dimension of architecture, I am most impressed with what buildings are and how they function. May favorite buildings balance technical proficiency with inspired design, and their architects never lost sight of the fundamental basis of architecture: containment of space for a purpose. Wright’s mentor and one of my favorite architects, Louis Sullivan, applied rigorous standards to the construction of his buildings because he believed that the appearance of the building should be the embodiment of the architectural form he was designing. While Sullivan is best remembered for his artistic achievements, part of his architectural program was structural innovation and his partnership with structural genius Dankmar Adler shows his desire to get every detail correct.

    In contrast, Wright’s iconoclastic insistence on advancing design principles ahead of examination of what his buildings were seems sloppy and careless. However, Wright created wonderful works of architecture and a few, such as Chicago’s Robie House and Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House, that lack the structural pitfalls of his later work. There seems to be a point in his career at which he began to willfully avoid the pragmatics needed to make truly great buildings. While his earlier works show that he learned from Sullivan the importance of posing the building as a solution to a spatial problem, his later works are almost purely artistic creations that nonetheless make great, awe-inspiring spaces. That he would come to insist upon bizarre and faulty construction methods is troubling, but more suggestive of the consumption of Wright by his ego and “vision” than of his inadequacy as an architect. Wright could do better, and chose not to do so.

    I would say such a choice is not the mark of an artist, but of an architect acting irresponsibly toward his buildings. If the architect has a duty to any one thing, it is to the buildings that he creates. If a lapse in duty is a failing, then Wright failed in the late part of his career. Oddly, he is much more revered than Sullivan, whose duty to architecture was so intense that he sacrificed his career rather than make bad buildings. (Both were, however, similarly arrogant toward clients and moody.) Sullivan could be a bully, but he did not lose clients because his roofs leaked and he denied the problem. He lost clients because his theory of architecture was supplanted by others, and his vision was too strong to be tolerable to most clients. He did not want to balance his views and those of his client. Neither did Wright, who also had long stretches without much work.

    So why did Wright become an enduring popular legend and Sullivan largely forgotten until the scholars began reconstructing his legacy in the late 1950s? Mass media seemed to play a role; Wright’s sensational personal life and aptitude at developing quotable axioms made him great fodder for newspaper articles, radio news programs and, famously, television. To some degree, Wright was able to compromise his presentation with public expectations; Sullivan was far too verbose and serious to do so.

    Wright’s legacy as an architect alone would not have solidified his fame; his ability to become the first American architectural media icon did so. As a showman, he excelled. He defined the public’s perception of the Architect in a way that Sullivan could not. Whether or not his buildings need expensive repairs based on his faulty structural calculations to most admirers seems but a footnote to his body of work as public figure and designer. Perhaps the trouble with Wright is that it’s nearly impossible to consider his work apart from his role as a public figure.

    To me, each aspect is equally important. I admire Wright but find Sullivan, H.H. Richardson, Albert Kahn, George Elmslie and much lesser-known American architects to be far more studious designers committed to great, functional buildings before being committed to theoretical purity. Ironically, other architects achieved a consistency greater than Wright’s without making big promises. In some ways, the legacy of 20th century American architecture was enriched by Wright and defined by others.