Events Green Space JNEM

Cinema St. Louis Presents “The Gateway Arch” Tomorrow

The Gateway Arch: A Reflection of America
Friday, September 24, 2010 at 7:30 p.m
Old North Crown Gallery, 2700 N. 14th Street


The September Old North film series offering is a screening of the award-winning documentary, “The Gateway Arch: A Reflection of America.” Earlier on the same day as the screening, the jury will officially introduce the winner of the competition to re-design the Arch grounds. The film, narrated by Kevin Kline and directed by Scott Huegerich and Bob Miano, explores the iconic, internationally recognized monument that has come to signify and define St. Louis. The film will be followed by a Q & A with co-directors Miano and Huegerich.

More information on the Cinema St. Louis website.

Downtown East St. Louis, Illinois Green Space JNEM

PRO Proud to Serve on the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG Team

Renderings from the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG submission in The City + The Arch + The River 2015 design competition.

The Preservation Research Office is proud to be a part of the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG team in The City + The Arch + The River 2015 design competition, and urge readers of this blog to examine our team’s proposal as well as those of the other teams. PRO Director Michael Allen provided architectural history and research for the SOM/Hargreaves/BIG team as well as cultural resource management suggestions. The experience has been exciting and rewarding, and PRO commends its fellow team members for many hours of hard work and amazing creativity.

We recommend taking the team to at least skim the narrative statements on the competition website, because the boards only hint at the full scope of all of the submissions.

Downtown East St. Louis, Illinois Green Space JNEM Riverfront

Final Designs Submitted in Arch Design Competition

Yesterday, the five finalists entered in the City+The Arch+The River 2015 design competition submitted their completed designs. Among these is the team headed by SOM and Hargreaves Associates that includes the Preservation Research Office. PRO has provided conceptual planning for both preservation of cultural resources within the competition boundary and creation of new cultural tourism plans for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. That is all that we can divulge until next week.

See our team’s submission and all of the others starting on Tuesday. Here is a calendar of upcoming events in the exciting final stretch of the competition.

Opening of the Public Exhibition of the Design Concepts of the Five Finalist Teams
Tuesday, Aug. 17
o 9:00 a.m.: Welcome at the Arch Grounds (in the event of inclement weather, event will be held in Arch Lobby)
Remarks by: St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay; Tom Bradley, Park Superintendent, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; Lynn McClure, National Parks Conservation Association; Donald G. Stastny, Competition Manager

o 9:15 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.: Open House in the Arch Lobby
Park Superintendent, Competition Manager and others will be on hand to answer your questions about the competition

Design Concepts Exhibition at the Arch and in the Community*

Aug. 17 – Sept. 24

Downtown Green Space JNEM Riverfront

The Untold Story of the Gateway Arch

by Rick Rosen

Over the course of a century a community took shape on the riverfront in St. Louis. At the same time, what happened in that community shaped the history of the nation. Finally, as those years of destiny unfolded, St. Louis came to see itself as a capital, as the great center of the Midwest.

But then, the currents of history changed. The river of history shifted its course and bypassed that community. Chicago, not St. Louis, became the capital of the Midwest.

Ever so gradually, the riverfront was forgotten. Then it decayed. Finally, it became an embarrassment to the still thriving but less influential community that had grown up around it following its century of greatness.

In that larger community, the humiliation of having lost out to Chicago lingered on. The embarrassment ran deep and it was accompanied by amnesia — a defense mechanism to cope with humiliation. The amnesia masqueraded as conventional wisdom: the riverfront is economically obsolete with regard to its building stock; the riverfront is obsolete in relation to advances in transportation technology; the riverfront is out of date in comparison to current styles of architecture.

All this conventional wisdom was, of course, true. However, it took hold not because it was true, but because it addressed a psychic need to mask the profound sense of loss that ate at the community’s identity, a loss for which the decaying riverfront was a constant reminder.

And then the great depression arrived. Luther Ely Smith, a man of great vision and a respected leader in his deeply embarrassed community, remembered that first century of greatness — and was appalled by its decadent reflection in the mirror of the nearly abandoned riverfront. He dreamed of something to replace the decadence, something that would bring back to life that lost century of greatness. Smith prevailed on the federal government — in response to the depression—to build a national park on the riverfront. Then he organized a design competition to create a new vision for the site.

And of course he succeeded — beyond his wildest dreams — with the Gateway Arch and its surrounding park grounds. But there was a cost.

A city’s built environment is nothing less than the accretion of its history. Whenever elements of that environment are wiped away, the material record of that history is lost. When the riverfront was cleared after 1939, the elements that were lost were the very elements Luther Ely Smith sought so hard to recover.

Any built environment tells the story of its history. But it’s also true that it tells that story in a special language, an arcane language that only people who are drawn to history, and those whose personal memories are embedded in its buildings, can easily understand. Still, despite its weaknesses, it is by far the best language for telling a community’s story. When it’s silenced, other languages must be found if the story is to be remembered at all.

Today, a second design competition for the riverfront is in progress. This competition presents a magnificent opportunity for St. Louis and it has already generated widespread excitement. Most of the excitement focuses on possibilities for new connections between the arch grounds and the rest of the city. However, with the original built environment of the riverfront long since gone and forgotten, the hidden challenge of the competition is to find the next best language to tell that lost story. Then, and only then, can the amnesia that has prevailed for so long in St. Louis finally be healed.

Rick Rosen is an architectural historian and downtown resident. Contact him at

Architects Downtown Green Space

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.

Demolition Downtown Green Space JNEM Riverfront

National Park Service Sponsors Look at Lost Riverfront Architecture

by Michael R. Allen

Photograph of St. Louis riverfront buildings from the Historic American Buildings Survey.


The nation’s only urban national park, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial with the stunning Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen, has long been haunted by a shadow architectural history. To make way for one of the world’s most full-realized modernist landscapes, St. Louis wrecked forty blocks of historic riverfront buildings. The significance of these buildings in American architectural history was such that in 1939, eminent architectural critic and historian Siegfried Gideon came to St. Louis to deliver a lecture on the doomed buildings. Gideon not only spoke about the unparalleled mass of cast-iron facades and storefronts found on the riverfront, he implored the city to change course and preserve the riverfront’s commercial buildings.

Gideon’s cry went unheeded, and plans to create a national memorial to westward expansion on the St. Louis riverfront progressed. Fortunately, the memorial’s architectural achievement matched what was lost. Still, the memorial site has a psychological scar tissue to any who know what was lost there. The National Park Service has had some difficulty in interpreting the pre-memorial riverfront so that both the memorial and the prior riverfront architecture are suitably honored.

Thus, the current “Faces of the Riverfront” exhibit at the Old Courthouse is a welcome endeavor, and, given current events, quite timely and inspirational. (The exhibit runs through August 22, through the unveiling of designs by finalists in the current design competition.) The National Park Service gave artist Sheila Harris access to its extensive photographic record of riverfront buildings lost to build the memorial, and she painted in watercolor renderings of the documented buildings. Harris’ paintings transform the hard, stoic documentation taken before the riverfront death knell into soft, humane snapshots of a still-living urban landscape.

Sheila Harris speaks at the exhibit’s opening reception on February 14th.

For the next few months, visitors to the Old Courthouse will be greeted by an exhibit that properly honors the life of the riverfront, in the space once occupied by the courtroom where the Dred Scott trial unfolded. Superintendent Tom Bradley, staff historian Bob Moore and exhibits manager Caitlin McQuade deserve credit for working with Harris to create the exhibit, as does Sheila Harris’s sister NiNi Harris (author of the new book Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch.)
Alongside the paintings are rarely-seen items from the Memorial’s collection of salvaged portions of riverfront buildings. Those who have seen the items on permanent display in the Old Courthouse often wonder what else remains, and here are a few answers. The expected cast iron pieces are joined by a more obscure terra cotta piece. The only problem withFaces of the Riverfront is that the fragments and watercolors pique a visitor’s interest in seeing the source photographs, of which none are on display save as wall-sized backdrops. Perhaps those photographs will be made public as part of a future Memorial project.
Downtown Green Space JNEM

Design Competition Disclaimer

by Michael R. Allen

This Thursday, the nine design teams entered in the Framing a Modern Masterpiece competition (better known as the “Arch design competition”) held a public networking session at the Old Courthouse. The next day, one of the teams invited me to join, and I accepted.

I will be a member of the team including SOM, BIG, Hargreaves Associates, Jaume Plensa and URS. The next few months will be exciting and fast-paced, and I look forward to participating in the competition from inside. I remain stunned and grateful for the invitation!

Consequently, however, I will be unable to write about the process for the duration of the competition. If this blog is silent on the competition, there is a good excuse.

Downtown Green Space I-70 Removal JNEM Riverfront

A Grand Plan for Memorial Drive

by Michael R. Allen

Image by Jeremy Clagett for City to River.

Readers of Ecology of Absence know that this author has long favored a holistic change to the current configuration of Memorial Drive and I-70 at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The highway and the street together create a visual barrier and physical obstacle course between the downtown core and the lovely Arch grounds, and both need to be removed and replaced with a pedestrian-friendly at-grade thoroughfare.

Today, the citizen organization City to River launched its website that presents a thoughtful, creative approach toward building a new Memorial Drive. The analysis and imagery of the website come at a wonderful moment, right after the Framing a Modern Masterpiece design competition jury has chosen the nine design teams that will create full entries. May the design teams spend time contemplating the City to River proposal, and may the design competition’s sponsors keep the door open for any team that may wish to embrace a radical way to renew the riverfront connection.

Downtown Green Space I-70 Removal JNEM

Looking at the Original Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

by Michael R. Allen

This snapshot from the Old Courthouse exhibit on the original Jefferson National Expansion Memorial design competition shows the winning site plan submitted by architect Eero Saarinen and landscape architect Dan Kiley in 1948. Below is an illustrated version of that plan.

This site plan was not built due to programmatic changes by the architects and the National Park Service (NPS). Obstacles that forced site changes included the agreement between NPS and the Terminal Railroad Association to retain the railroad tracks through the site and the need to elevate I-70 over the tunnel at the Eads Bridge. The original design placed the Arch closer to the river in anticipation of railroad removal, and placed the interstate in a tunnel (shown at top) with a Third Avenue at grade above not unlike the one envisioned by advocates today.

Other changes from the original plan:

Kiley reoriented the layout of the Memorial for a nearly symmetrical plan.

The Campfire Theater was a programmatic requirement of all national parks when the competition was held, but dropped before completion of the Memorial.

Restaurants perched over the riverfront were never built due to the railroad issue. The tunnel required high flood walls that changed the east end of the site that was originally supposed to slope down to meet the levee.

The designers and NPS abandoned plans for an architectural museum on the grounds and placed the “Historic Museum” under ground (the Museum of Westward Expansion).

The designers and NPS abandoned plans for a “frontier village” of reconstructed French Colonial buildings in the northwest part of the site, as well as a group of such buildings around the Old Cathedral.

Entrance to the Arch trams would have been through the reconstructed Old Rock House, shown here between the Arch legs.

The park would have extended all of the way north to the Eads Bridge.

The final landscape work at the Memorial took place in 1982, nearly forty years after the selection of the plan by Saarinen and Kiley. Congressional funding delays are largely responsible for the slow implementation. The Gateway Arch was completed in 1965, after Saarinen’s death. This slow pace of development of one of the nation’s grandest integrated works of modern landscape and architecture no doubt was frustrating, but the result was worth the wait.

Preservation of the relatively young landscape is integral to the current design competition. Still, some of the early ideas of Saarinen and Kiley may be worth contemplation by designers in the current competition. Part of the Memorial enjoys the protection of the nation’s highest level of historic designation, that of the National Historic Landmark. The rest does not. That is not an invitation to alter the landscape, but a potential window for sensitive changes.

Any changes made will be interpretive, and interpreting what is authentic about the landscape is a huge challenge. Architects by nature wish to transform places, and that inclination must be tempered by understanding of Saarinen and Kiley’s plan and its evolution. That’s why the competition requires teams to include someone who understands federal preservation laws — laws that are not prohibitions on change but guiding restrictions.

Certainly, there are two parts of the Memorial that developed due to utilitarian need rather than architectural inspiration — the north and south nodes, where the hulking parking garage and the south maintenance building stand. The maintenance building and the parking garage should be moved off of the grounds, and those sites thrown open to new purposes. Many of us advised Senator John Danforth that should he wish to build a museum at either site, he would have faced little serious opposition. In fact, the south end was where Saarinen and Kiley placed their main museum building in the first plan. Removal of the garage would allow for another intriguing change — removal of the too-wide and underused extension of Washington Avenue on the north side of the Memorial.

Many of the needed changes that sponsors of the design competition seek — better connections, stronger link to river and programmatic venues that attract visitors — are in the original plan. Saarinen and Kiley’s original plan would have made moot any future design competition focused on activation and connectivity.

The inclusion of an architectural museum was prescient, given today’s St. Louis Building Arts Foundation effort. Retention of some sense of the historic riverfront buildings is in keeping with later preservation philosophy that holds that total destruction is never desirable, even in large-scale renewal. Most of all, the designers blended the landscape into the city by bridging the interstate and drawing the Memorial straight into the north riverfront we now call Laclede’s Landing. Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley left a blueprint for a connected, active Memorial that the current design competition may realize. That blueprint was bestowed with genius and care for the site’s designed beauty. Before designers attempt to rise to that level of genius, they should take a look at the original winning entry.

Downtown Green Space JNEM

Duffy: Design Competition Promises to Be Bold

by Michael R. Allen

Bob Duffy has an insightful commentary in the St. Louis Beacon entitled “The competition to improve Arch grounds promises to be bold, creative”. I recommend a full read. However, Duffy’s recap of yesterday’s briefing for potential competitors in the design competition includes some hopeful signs that the competition process will be fruitful for visionary thinking.

For one thing, the competitors will be forbidden contact with the sponsors and jurors. Writes Duffy:

Competitors are forbidden contact with competition sponsors and jurors, and if this rule is broken, the offending team will be disqualified. There is to be no corporate or personal lobbying. Strict communications protocols have been established, and all information must be requested through competition management.

Competition manager Don Stastny also reiterates that the process and short timeline is meant to guarantee, not stifle, visionary solution-making. From Bob Duffy:

The guidelines and timelines for the competition are meant not to put obstacles in the paths of designers, architects and artists who may compete, but to create an environment in which the teams might do their best work.

Sounds good to me.