Downtown Green Space JNEM

The Arch is Surrounded

by Michael R. Allen

The National Park Service has completed the construction of most of the bollards surrounding the grounds of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (better known as the Gateway Arch grounds). The result? Not as bad as many people expected, but still terrible. While the spaces round spikes improve upon the impenetrable nearly-waist-high temporary concrete barrier around the grounds, their presence disrupts the integrity of the Arch grounds.

The bollards form rows of alien spikes visually dividing the Arch grounds from the sidewalk. This effect is particularly bad given how visually separated those grounds are from the rest of the city. It’s as though, in the name of “homeland security,” the grounds have been given an extra line of defense against the city.

Of course, the grounds really need further connection to the city, and the terrorist threat to the Arch is debatable. I also note that the architectural vision of architect Eero Saarinen for the grounds has suffered a second major blow — talk about the Arch being under attack. The first major compromise came in 2001, when the Arch was lit permanently at night. Saarinen did not want the Arch lit, and instead wanted it to gently reflect back the lights of the city. The unlit Arch was a lovely nighttime monument, although not as easily digestible to tourists and people who are always tourists in their own city. The lit Arch is much less interesting, and the harsh lighting’s glare shows that the surface of the Arch was never intended for illumination.

Perhaps the bollards will be used to keep the grounds from being trampled by the throngs of downtown pedestrians flocking to the proposed new floating islands in the Mississippi River — if they don’t get hit by cars trying to cross Memorial Drive and I-70 first. From those expensive islands, the throngs can declare triumph over the vision of Eero Saarinen and the city leaders of the last century — just as those leaders triumphed over the rich architectural history of the city’s riverfront.