Friday, September 24, 2010

Congratulations to MVVA Team, Winner of The City + The Arch + The River 2015 Competition!

The selection of the team helmed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates as the winner of The City + The Arch + The River 2015 international design competition marks a key milestone in the decades-long effort to revitalize the Arch grounds. For a detailed look at MVVA's plans for reconnecting the City of St. Louis to the Arch grounds and the riverfront, go here and/or watch the video below:

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.
If these improvements are actually completed--and all indications are that key governmental and business players intend to ensure that they are--then I think the design competition will largely have fulfilled its mandate to "take one of our country’s first urban park sites, weave it into the city fabric, explore the role of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as an active part of the downtown and a contributor to economic growth, celebrate the riverfront and mitigate the divisive ‘moat’ of transportation around the site." 

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!


  1. Thanks for the nice post. What follows is just my opinion as a life-long St. Louisan who's stood by and watched some of the dumbest things go down when it comes to St. Louis and its architecture. I thought all of the designs missed the mark by a mile.

    No offense, but "yawn" terribly terribly boring design. I didn't see much in this design that should cost $350 million either.

    Museum entrance OK, work around the Old Cathedral, OK, but what can you do with it when it sticks out like a sore thumb and always has. They should have moved the church when they built the Arch, and they still should move it. Pavement by the river for public events, huh, that's already there. Tearing down the Arch parking garage, for what, less parking and more congestion, surely they could work around or over that. An open air ampitheater on the North part of the Arch grounds, it won't be used for long and will be a trash collector within a year AND there's already one of those in the Gateway Mall (with a fountain) about 6 blocks West. Putting an ampitheater on the East Side (along with other usable spaces) is a much better idea and until many St. Louisans start looking at the REGION including the East Side, the designs will always be half-baked. A bird sanctuary seems very 1990s and won't be used much at all if they market it as that. "The best views of downtown St. Louis is for the birds" HeeHaw This part of the design is a not so thinly veiled suggestion that the design team didn't seem to have a clue of what to do on the East side.

    And the piece of most resistance, the awful idea of putting a lid over the highway, that may not be a highway but may be a boulevard sometime etc. (No way it will EVER happen, fat chance I say) A "lid" to do what, channel the noise up and down the highway. Why don't they just give everyone a pair of earplugs at the Old Courthouse and save a few million on this tacky "lid" over the highway. One of the best things about visiting the Arch (especially for kids) is looking down on the highway, feeling the breeze of the passing cars and inhaling exhaust fumes. That's part of the experience and should always be part of it. This is a "city" last I checked. Besides, one could even say that Interstate 70 is more of a monument to "Westward Expansion" than the arch could ever be.

    I say, put a couple of pre-fabricated bridges over the streets and highway to make the passage across easier (like the bridge on the bike trail over the River des Peres in South St. Louis) and shut up about it already. It would look a thousand times better than the dumb "lid" I've seen a hundred designs for over the years, It still looks like a dumb "lid" And, those metal bridges would cost about $100 million less.


    ray at

  2. Way to be positive about the Jury's choice. The first reaction so many people have is to complain, but you are absolutely right when you say that we are lucky to have these improvements and are smart to pursue feasible changes.

    I also like Ray's positivity about the highway and think that his perspective on it is great. Although I completely agree with CitytoRiver that Highway 70 needs to go, several pedestrian bridges over the highway may be a better short term solution than a big expensive lid that could just get in the way when highway removal actually happens.

    It's nice to hear some different opinions sometimes! Thanks!