Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Framing a Modern Masterpiece: Meet the Design Teams

Meet the Design Teams Program
Earlier tonight, representatives from the five design teams remaining in the Memorial competition were introduced to the public at the Roberts Orpheum Theater.  At this stage, the teams are discussing only design philosophies and sample projects; actual design concepts will not be unveiled until August. 

Joe Buck hosted the event, mixing humor with obvious passion for St. Louis and the Arch (likening the contestants to "make-up artists for Cindy Crawford").  Buck's anecdotes about the Arch predated his own birth: in 1965, his late father Jack conducted an interview on a platform at the top of the Arch as the keystone piece was dropped in.

Making a strong case for St. Louis and its residents, Buck asked the contestants to "spend some time here and meet the people who make this city great."  Buck noted that the project not only represents the most meaningful renovations underaken in the Memorial's history, but is also one of the most intriguing urban projects in the pipeline in the United States. 

Don Stastny, the overall manager of the competition, followed Buck's introductory comments—and it is clear that St. Louis is lucky to have him at the helm of this critically important project.  Stastny, one of the top competition managers in the country and a recipient of the AIA Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture in 2009, is obviously passionate about the Arch and understands its vital role in the urban landscape of downtown St. Louis.  Calling himself "deeply honored and proud" to be involved in the competition, Stastny referred to the Arch as a "tremendous symbol" of which all St. Louisans and Americans should be proud.

Stastny remarked on the numerous "moving parts" involved in the competition, both in terms of disciplines (architecture, urban design, engineering, landscaping, transportation) and natural and manmade features (highways, the river, the Arch, the Archgrounds, and the East Bank).  A key point of the competition, noted Stastny, is to weave the Memorial back into the urban fabric.  He made the interesting point that when you leave the Memorial, all signs lead you out of town, as opposed to into downtown—something he hopes the renovations will change.

Stastny gave a brief history of the design competition to date, before noting that the recently-begun third and final stage is "where the rubber hits the road."  As noted, the teams' design concepts will be unveiled in August at a public event, and will be displayed both at the Memorial and at various rotating spots throughout the city.  The final design will be selected in September, with the ribbon cutting scheduled for October 28, 2015—the 50th anniversary of the Arch.

The design teams were then each alloted fifteen minutes for a presentation by their representative(s) on the composition of their team, their general design philosophy, and a sampling of past projects.  At this stage, the teams are still speaking in relatively abstract (and similar) terms, but there are some noticeable differences in philosophical approaches:
  • The Behnisch Team focused on the "needs of people" (stating that a "good city is a city with a human dimension"), as well as the built environment by calling for the Memorial to become an "active catalyst for urban cohesion."
  • The approach of the MVVA Team seems primarily landscape-oriented, stressing that landscape (1) accommodates a humane scale, (2) provides continuity, and (3) is affordable.
  • The PWP Landscape Architecture, Foster + Partners, Civitas team (whose representative personally knew both Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley) advocated "subtle and respectful" changes that, while transformative, are so natural that they're barely noticeable to the majority of the public.
  • The SOM, Hargreaves, BIG team stressed "making places for people" (places that are "alive" every day), as well as tying design ideas into a community's bold, long-range plans to "create economic vitality."  
  • The Weiss/Manfredi team referred to three primary design categories, titled "Icon and Setting," "Connections," and "Layering Programs."  The interesting facet of this team's approach was an affinity for embracing barriers (such as highways), by turning them into connections and "capturing their energy" without actually removing them.
To review each team's "Statement of Intent," click here.

In my opinion, the SOM, Hargreaves, BIG team was the most impressive, both from a presentation perspective and with respect to the team members' sample projects, which include Chicago's Millennium Park, San Francisco's Crissy Field (described by the team as "another beloved landscape within the shadow of its national landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge"), Houston's Discovery Green, Louisville's Waterfront Park, and London's Canary Wharf.  Apparently Joe Buck felt the same way, given that he jokingly declared the competition "over" after the team's presentation.  I would be interested to get reactions from other attendees.

I would have liked a little more specificity and a little less abstraction from the design teams, but in all, this was a really exciting event.  It's almost hard to believe that, in only five and a half years, the Memorial and the Missisippi riverfront will (hopefully) be significantly different than they are today.  I, for one, know exactly where I will be on October 28, 2015.  How often can you say that about a day that is 2,009 days away?


  1. Any mention of City to River?

  2. There was no mention of City to River or highway removal. The teams did not take questions and only spoke of design philosophies, their work on other projects, and the composition of their team. Statsny took questions from Joe Buck.

    Connecting the city to the Arch grounds was brought up by all the teams, but my impression was that there was more interest in working with, over or around the barriers than removing them,


  3. Thanks for the summary Ben. It's great to hear your expert perspective on this exciting issue. Keep up the good work!

  4. Ben @ St. Louis EnergizedApril 29, 2010 at 8:00 AM

    Rick is correct--no mention of City to River or highway removal. At least one team (Weiss/Manfredi) actually seems to embrace the highway, saying they're "crazy about barriers" and enjoy "capturing the energy" of highways and other barriers. This, in my view, was the least compelling presentation. Please support the efforts of City to River however you can.

    On another note, the participants advocated the continuing involvement of the community, with references to community outreach and input. However, it isn't clear to me the extent to which that is actually going to occur. Is the unveiling of the design concepts in August the next time the public at large will know anything specific about what the teams are planning?

  5. Why would the design teams push for removing the highway when that's a political decision not within the boundaries of this project? They could no more remove the highway than demolish Lumière's parking lots or rehab Powell Square. This is up to St. Louisans not out of town planners. "Money isn't in the bank" for removing the highway as it's not on the table of options.

  6. I felt this was a great summary of events last night and directed my blog readers to check it out as well when I mentioned your article in my post. Here is the link to my blog in case you want to check it out. Thanks for your point-of-view!

  7. Doug,

    Your comment is a bit confusing. The depressed lanes are within the boundary of the design competition. The National Park Service has stated that they prefer highway removal, and MoDOT has stated that they are open to highway removal.

    The project will likely be funded in large part by the federal government and the projected total budget for implementing the improvements under the GMP's Preferred Alternative, Program Expansion, is a little north of $300 million. So why are you saying highway removal is not within the boundaries of this project?

    Demolishing Lumiere's parking lot, rehabbing of Powell Square are totally independent of highway removal. But a better connected Arch would probably increase the liklihood of any rehab of Powell Square and the increase the number of cars parked in the Lumiere lot.

  8. It's difficult to imagine how any workable design could emerge from a process that doesn't start with the premise of getting I-70 out of the way. If the freeway is left standing, it will be a waste of money.

    That said, I believe the SOM et al philosophy of creating economic vitality with the renovation is sensible. The Arch grounds are not an isolated theme park like Six Flags. They memorialize a site that was the epicenter of economic activity driving our country's westward expansion. Keeping a strong connection to the downtown business district is appropriate.

    This connection should radiate in three directions. To the Cathedral & Old Courthouse, actual relics of that era. To Washington Ave., where the dry goods warehouses stimulated by that expansion have been re purposed for the 21st century. To Soulard & Lafayette Square, an area that could be as historically interesting and attractive to tourists as Society Hill, Georgetown, or Boston Common.

    I'm a native of St. Louis that has lived in the SF Bay Area for the last 16 years. The removal of the Embarcadero Freeway reconnected downtown SF with its waterfront in a way that has pleased both tourists, locals, and the downtown business community. The parallels between SF and StL in this regard are striking. SF was lucky -- the 1989 earthquake necessitated the freeway removal. StL will have to make a conscious decision to spend discretionary money in a tough economy.