As would be expected (no matter which team won), there is a wide range of opinion as to whether the competition jury selected the best design. Personally, in my first reaction to the release of the designs, I tweeted that I liked MVVA's design the best, primarily because it seemed to me to be the most compatible with City to River's longer-term proposal to replace the downtown highway with a boulevard. In subsequent weeks, though, I had MVVA considerably further down the list.
Having had several days to dig back into MVVA's design, I have to say that I am really excited with the outcome of the competition. In the relatively near future, among other improvements we can expect to see (subject to design changes):
- A westward-facing, street-level entrance to a significantly expanded underground museum;
- Removal of the existing parking garage at the northern end of the Memorial, creating access to walkable portals through the Eads Bridge to Laclede's Landing;
- New spaces and improvements to enjoy at the northern end of the Memorial, including play areas for children, shaded seating areas, a large earthen amphitheater (better placed, in my opinion, than the theaters proposed for the east side of the river), and a new Gateway Urban Ecology Center;
- A new, well-designed Cathedral Square next to the Old Cathedral, with an adjacent market pavilion and restaurant;
- On the east side of the river, a bird sanctuary with treetop-level walkways above restored wetlands;
- A riverside cobblestone plaza, intended to "accommodate a broader spectrum of markets, concerts, and seasonal attractions";
- Smarter use of parking to activate the north, south, and west edges of the Memorial, and remote ticketing facilities intended to encourage visitors to explore downtown while waiting for their Arch tours to begin;
- A seasonal beer garden and ice rink on the currently-underused south end of park, as well as better connections to the Choteau's Landing area;
- Expanded space on the Eads Bridge for pedestrian and cycling use; and
- A one-block "lid" over the depressed lanes of (soon-to-be-former) Interstate 70 with "noise mitigation hoods," intended to create a more pleasant pedestrian experience.
For those who think that the design is merely "safe," I think they have not considered the massive undertaking that is involved in completing the improvements described above, and are missing the bigger picture. The design does, after all, have to be feasible within the parameters (temporal and otherwise) set by the design competition (without which nothing would be happening at all), and economic reality.
Of course, what MVVA has proposed is a preliminary design, and there is room for improvement. Over the next 90 days, the team will work with the National Park Service, the City, and key stakeholders to revise and refine the design. Comments from the public are welcomed, so if you see something you don't like--or don't see something you do like--then now is the time to voice those opinions.
Interestingly, MVVA even appears to be open to incorporating design components from the other teams in the competition. I wouldn't anticipate any of the big-ticket, eye candy items (think gondolas) working their way into the final design, but there is certainly room for (for example) better cross-river connections, better activation of Kiener Plaza, and better connections between the Memorial and downtown.
That last point may be the most exciting, as MVVA appears to be interested in designing in a way that is consistent with the broader goal of replacing the downtown highway with a boulevard. As noted in the team's earlier design narrative, "We have proposed a one-block overpass, rather than an at-grade boulevard, because it is less expensive, easier to achieve by 2015, and would require fewer jurisdictional and regulatory negotiations. But the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear, and we have purposely created a proposal that is compatible with either solution." City to River has extended its congratulations to MVVA, and hopes to work closely with the team and other stakeholders in the upcoming months.
On balance, I think St. Louisans should be thrilled with where this competition has led, or that it even occurred at all (it being a monumental achievement in and of itself). I have probably said it hundreds of times and I will say it again--this is an incredibly exciting time for St. Louis. Thanks to the organizers of the design competition, and congratulations to MVVA and its team members! Tweet