Development Infill Philadelphia

Saint Louis is Ready for This

by Jeff Vines

While your editor is traveling, I turn over the blog to my dear friend Jeff Vines of to keep the conversation going. Jeff and I were in Philadelphia together for the inspiring Next American Vanguard. Philadelphia left us inspired by practices that we saw there and the ideas shared among the Vanguard participants.

Fresh back from the Next American Vanguard conference in Philadelphia, and what an incredible experience it was! The conference included an extensive bus tour of gritty North Philly neighborhoods, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly envious. Not because Saint Louis’ historic urban fabric can’t stand with the greatest cities in America (Philly included)– it certainly can. But in terms of contemporary residential architecture, Saint Louis falls painfully short. The City of Brotherly Love– a town that celebrates its history perhaps more proudly than any other in America– also manages to embrace bold modern design, and such a contrast of new and old is striking, refreshing and inspiring.
One particularly fine development in the Northern Liberties section knocked my socks off.

The Piazza!

This sleek, modern development incorporates apartments, dining, retail and public gathering spaces, and it does it beautifully.

Balancing contemporary urban design with the dense, historic neighborhood that surrounds it, The Piazza is more than a complex of buildings, it’s a community.

Philly gets it right!

Enough with the faux-historic clocktowers and phony brick facades that St. Louis developers seem preoccupied with– it’s not 1915 anymore. The proposed City Walk development on the former Doctors Building site at Euclid and West Pine could be and should be a truly transformative project, yet the renderings are contrived, underwhelming and overdone. It’s time we aim higher.

Saint Louis deserves it.

10 replies on “Saint Louis is Ready for This”

It's SO horribly mid century box.

I don't mind the faux brick veneers and the attempt for continuity with surrounding brick buildings.

Check out the 7-11 on Morgan Ford and Juniata: a brick veneer over cinder block box. Is that a code requirement for building in a predominately brick building area?

No, it's not 1915 (more like the late 50s) but that's when my historic house was built and its revered.

These buildings look like the Days Inn retrofit in downtown STL. I like them, and St. Louis could do better, but I really like projects like Metro Lofts, 4545, and a few others around STL.

Faux historic new construction is an insult to the built environment. It ends up looking cheap and inherently less attractive than the authentically historic buildings that surround it. What irks me most is that St. Louis tends to build faux historic even in areas that pride themselves on being hip and progressive. Case in point– the Loop. There is a new commercial building going up currently on the site of the old Loop Automotive at Delmar & Limit. The building is so unimaginative and mundane, and while I'm glad it will fill a vacant lot, it leaves me painfully uninspired. Other old cities have done a much better job mixing truly historic with truly contemporary structures.

I agree with you, Alex. The Days Inn, Metro Lofts, 4545, Nine North, and the Roberts Tower are excellent new developments. But when I see the bland renderings of City Walk and proposed commercial buildings in The Loop that try to convince everyone that they are 100 years old, it just frustrates me. And beyond the larger projects, I'm also referring to smaller residential infill buildings. Brooklyn, Philly, Chicago, and even Milwaukee and Cleveland blow us away in this department (I have a lot of pictures to prove it– I'll save them for a later post). It's as if St. Louis developers never get out of town, so they just keep doing the same stuff over and over. I do give credit to EcoUrban and a few other projects for breaking the mold, but overall, we are way behind the times.

I don't think it's totally a developer problem, but also design guides and zoning issues. Plus all of these cities are not nearly as depopulated (in terms of current vs. peek) therefore maybe not in the "build anything to get them to come" stage?

Preserving historic districts is important, and I am sure someone wants to purchase the faux-historic buildings on Mississippi that BSI built for Guided Age in Lafayette Square, but St. Louis needs more than a small handful of innovative designs if it wants to attract. Not everyone wants to live in a historic building, replica, or suburban alien. St. Louis doesn't offer many options besides those three.

Magnolia Heights on Macklind is a good step in the right direction. The facade has historic elements with modern and it's planned as urban. Hopefully this sells well and eventually we get more things like those in Philadelphia.

Ugh! More wrecking-ball fodder.

There is a reason that 9/10 people rejected Modernism and its progeny. It is simply ugly by all objective aesthetic criteria. Who wants to live in something sterile and lifeless like that? The reason we do indeed need to go back to classical forms is because we have to go back to where we got off track. We must rebuild on the objectively good foundations that we were given and which were abandoned by the Modernists.

If that is the future, I am all for staying behind the times.

I live in a historic house in the Skinker Debaliviere Historic District that includes the City portion of the Loop, but I see no reason why my neighborhood or any other should be frozen in some fairly land time warp. There is no reason why bold new designs cannot coexist with history. Lindell Boulevard is a great example of this.

A lot of cities have these "ugly modernist buildings" because people seem to like them. So it's not insane to think if we built more "glass towers" or smaller infill people would possibly move from other cities for them. We also have plenty of land on the Gateway Mall where we can do these.

The look of this development is definitely interesting. Maybe in the Bottle District? And adjacent or nearby to a new Memorial Drive Boulevard?

As far as downtown is concerned, I’d rather see this modern approach for apartments/condos than proposed single-family/duplex suburban-style houses for the Near North Side. Modernism can work in St. Louis — particularly downtown where positive growth would be most recognized on a national stage. It’s important to preserve the city’s history and architecture, but sometimes – in cases like this or a modern look-what-we-built skyscraper – the positives of genuinely new development outweigh the negatives of lost historically-sensitive preservation.

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