Friday, April 23, 2010

Revitalizing the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial: A Vision for Transformative Change

Of all the exciting projects contributing to the ongoing revitalization of downtown St. Louis, perhaps none has the potential to be as transformative as the National Park Service’s plan to renovate the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial—home of the Gateway Arch. The ongoing design competition provides an enormous opportunity to energize downtown, increase regional tourism, and change the fundamental nature of St. Louisans’ relationship to the Memorial and the riverfront.

In my view, the key to the unqualified success of the competition is the creation of bold, world-class improvements to the Memorial that realize the competition’s primary goal—the reconnection of the City to the Arch and the River—to the greatest extent possible. Here, I propose a plan that I believe would achieve that level of success: the construction of two distinctive, yet complementary, buildings on the Memorial grounds, exceptionally suited to the Memorial and appropriately deferential of the Arch. Although these ideas are offered outside the context of the design competition, my hope is that they are compelling enough to have some positive impact, however small, on those directly involved in the urban revival of downtown generally, if not the redesign of the Memorial in particular.

A Quick Bit of Background: A Call for Change

For many people, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial means one thing—the Gateway Arch. The Memorial actually is much more than that, encompassing sixty-two acres of landscaped grounds surrounding Eero Saarinen’s masterpiece, plus adjacent areas such as the Old Courthouse. Dan Kiley designed the grounds—considered to be a masterpiece in their own right—to complement and evoke the Arch without drawing attention away from it. In the words of the National Park Service (“NPS”), “[t]he scale, impact, and design of the grounds constitute an essential mooring for the world-famous Arch and merge the Arch and its grounds, with one reflecting the other.”

The Gateway Arch is an iconic national memorial site beloved by St. Louisans and others from around the world, attracting millions of visitors per year. Many, however, have long lamented the separation of downtown St. Louis from the Memorial and the Mississippi River, resulting from the razing of forty square blocks of urban buildings to create the Memorial, and the completion of Interstate 70 to the west of the Memorial in 1964. Added to this feeling of isolation is a sense that there is little to keep visitors at the Memorial for extended periods of time, or to cause St. Louisans to enjoy the Memorial on any sort of recurring basis.
New Mississippi River Bridge Project
(Credit: Missouri Department of Transportation)
In recent years, a growing number of voices have called for the revitalization of the Memorial grounds in a manner that reconnects the City to the Arch and the River. The volunteer effort City to River, for example, has advocated the relocation of Interstate 70 in front of the Memorial as part of the new Mississippi River Bridge project, to be replaced with a pedestrian-friendly Memorial Drive “that re-establishes St. Louis’s historic connection to its riverfront.”  Others have proposed a wide range of renovation efforts, with some commentators going so far as to urge filling in much of the open green space in the Memorial with an extension of the downtown grid.

Most prominently, in 2008, Senator John Danforth proposed a significant revitalization of the Memorial grounds and the riverfront, publicly announcing that his Danforth Foundation was prepared to contribute $50 million toward the development of a world-class visitor attraction—most likely a museum or similar cultural institution—located directly on the Memorial grounds. Senator Danforth suggested the launching of an international design competition to realize his vision for an institution “powerful in design, content, scale, and impact.”

Recognizing the opportunity and need to breathe new life into the Memorial, the NPS responded by initiating a planning process for the management of the Memorial over the next several decades. Tension between the NPS’s and Senator Danforth’s competing visions was soon evident, however. Remarking on the Senator’s vision for an above-ground museum on the Memorial grounds, the NPS expressed “concerns about the degree to which the structure would draw attention to itself and away from the Gateway Arch.” Senator Danforth continued to push for a “world class” destination that would reenergize local interest in the Memorial, attract many new visitors, and encourage non-locals to stay in St. Louis for longer periods, as opposed to spending “tens of millions of dollars . . . on kiosks and plaques.” In April 2009, Senator Danforth announced that the NPS’s plans for the Memorial “fall far short of the transformative change hoped for by the Foundation” and that he was directing his Foundation’s resources to other community needs (although he has since expressed that he remains generally supportive of the revitalization efforts).
Final General
Management Plan (link)

In October 2009, the NPS released its Final General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (the “Plan”) for the Memorial. The Plan presented several potential alternatives for managing the Memorial over the next fifteen to twenty years, with “Program Expansion” being designated as the NPS’s preferred alternative. Under this alternative, the “Memorial would be revitalized by expanded programming, facilities, and partnerships . . . to expand the visitor experience throughout the Memorial.”

As recommended by Senator Danforth, a key component of this preferred alternative was the launching of an international design competition titled Framing a Modern Masterpiece: The City + The Arch + The River 2015, similar to the 1947 competition that resulted in the construction of the Arch. The purpose of the competition is to “integrate the Arch and the park surrounding it into the fabric of the city and region and embrace the Mississippi River and its east bank.” This “Design Competition Overlay” allows new features and elements to be constructed on and adjacent to the Memorial grounds, as long as they “meet the intent of the underlying management zones for the next 15-20 years and . . . do not destroy character-defining features.”

The “management zones” established by the Plan generally set forth the various types of allowable improvements in different areas of the Memorial. The “Original Landscape” zone, for example, is intended to preserve the majority of the Memorial grounds in their existing form. The Streetscapes and Riverscapes zone will “[c]reate visual and physical connectivity between the city streets, riverfront, and the Memorial.” The Heritage Education and Visitor Amenities zones, which include the north and south ends of the Memorial (where the parking garage and maintenance shed, respectively, currently reside), are open to significant new visitor attractions, such as one or more museums, theaters or food service areas. This zone also includes a suggested expansion of the Museum of Westward Expansion below the Arch (with a possible new underground entrance from Memorial Drive), and, most notably, the acquisition and development of up to 100 acres on the east side of the River.

Framing a Modern Masterpiece
Competition Manual (link)
Within these parameters, the contestants will propose a variety of improvements, with connectivity to the surrounding urban fabric as a key design goal. As noted in the competition manual, “[t]he challenge is 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.” On this last point, the NPS has strongly expressed its support for solutions to the separation of the Memorial from downtown created by the depressed highway, such as pedestrian bridges, lids, or street closures.

As of the date of this post, the design competition has entered its third and final stage, with five teams invited to participate in the “Design Concept Competition.” The preferred design is to be selected in late September 2010, with the winning team earning the right to negotiate a design contract with the NPS. The Memorial renovations are to be completed by the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Arch, on October 28, 2015.

A Vision for Transformative Change

I don’t know specific details of the Memorial improvements desired by Senator Danforth beyond what has been publicly reported, as discussed above. Generally, though, I share his view that anything less than the development of a new, world-class destination at the Memorial will be a hugely missed opportunity. To fully realize the goal of reconnecting the City to the Arch and the River, I believe that significant above-ground improvements should be constructed in a manner that boldly reflects the urban nature of the Memorial site and changes the fundamental relationship of local residents with the Memorial and the riverfront.

In shaping my own vision for transformative change, I have attempted to follow the stated goals of the Plan, while only minimally deviating from the zone restrictions designated by the Plan (particularly the “Original Landscape Zone”). In addition, I have come up with a few of my own criteria to complement the Plan goals, which are that any new structures at the Memorial must be (1) world-class, unique, and exceptional, in every way worthy of sharing space with the Arch and the rest of the Memorial (in Senator Danforth’s words, “powerful in design, content, scale, and impact”); (2) reflective of the juxtaposition of the Arch as a masterpiece of modern engineering located within a traditional urban setting; and (3) most critically, connective of the Arch, the City and the River to the greatest extent possible, while not detracting from the Arch and preserving the vast majority of the Memorial site in its current form.

My vision is for the creation of two world-class, architecturally significant destinations, designed and positioned to engage the Memorial grounds in new ways, and to evoke and complement the Arch while deferring to it as the undisputed centerpiece of the Memorial. The first, called the “Gateway Arcade,” would be a grand restaurant/retail hall showcasing St. Louis's artisan and/or independently-owned culinary community. The second, known as the “Gateway History and Cultural Center,” would explore a blend of national and local themes befitting a national site located in an urban setting, as well as provide sweeping views of the City, the River, and the Arch and Memorial grounds.

      Gateway Arcade

Imagine strolling down Washington Avenue on a sunny spring day, crossing the new, pedestrian-friendly Memorial Drive, and arriving at the far northwest corner of the Memorial grounds. A landscaped plaza extends southeastwardly toward a beautiful brick building, constructed in the Victorian or Antebellum architectural style dominant on the site prior to construction of the Memorial. The building begins across the sidewalk near the western end of the existing parking garage, then curves gracefully toward Memorial Drive and continues southward. As the building extends along Memorial Drive, it subtly—from up-close, almost imperceptibly—decreases in height. At approximately Locust Street, the structure begins to curve inward toward the Arch, but instead of continuing into the interior Memorial grounds, it disappears into the hillside across from the Mansion House apartments at Locust Street. This is the fa├žade of the Gateway Arcade.

Great Nave Marketplace,
San Francisco Ferry Building
The Gateway Arcade would be an exciting, upscale, indoor marketplace, showcasing the best of the St. Louis local and regional food community. Thematically similar to the Great Nave Marketplace in the San Francisco Ferry Building, the Arcade would serve as a gathering place for independently-owned food-related businesses, local residents, and visitors to the Memorial from around the world. The Arcade would be more than a functional way to rectify the current lack of food options at the Memorial. It would be a distinctive and dynamic destination where residents and tourists alike could enjoy the best of the St. Louis culinary community as part of the overall Memorial experience.

Back at the northern end of the Arcade, where the initial curve of the building creates a pleasant outdoor space called the “Gateway Plaza,” at least one exceptional (yet casual) locally-owned restaurant would offer indoor and outdoor dining (e.g., Soulard’s Franco; Lafayette Square’s Eleven Eleven Mississippi). The remainder of the Arcade interior would include a diverse tenant mix reflecting the local food scene and diverse ethnic flavors of St. Louis’s great neighborhoods (e.g., Soulard and The Hill), featuring smaller eateries, dessert shops, and coffee shops (e.g., Kaldi’s Coffee, Baily’s Chocolate Bar, Ted Drewes); vendors of specialty foods for off-premises consumption (e.g., Di Gregorio’s Market, Global Foods Market, a mini-Straubs); adult beverage purchasing and tasting rooms (e.g., 33 Wine Shop and Tasting Bar, The Wine Merchant, Schlafly); and purveyors of cutlery, cooking tools, ingredients and other food-related wares (e.g., Kitchen Conservatory, Winslow’s). In addition, the marketplace would offer meats, cheeses, and other fresh products from regional farmers such as Baetje Farms and Hinkebein HillsFarm, but would not focus on the sale of fresh produce in order to minimize direct competition with the Soulard Farmers’ Market and other local farmers’ markets.

The design of the Arcade (defined in architecture as a covered and arched passageway, often with shops on one or both sides) would be equal in importance to its content and functionality. As the Arcade continues along Memorial Drive, several understated entrances provide access to the interior, opening directly into the Arcade hall as opposed to individual shop areas. Patio and sidewalk areas are filled with Memorial visitors, but the frontage is devoid of signage or other features that might spoil the beauty of the architectural elements or impart a commercial “feel” to the Memorial. The backside of the Arcade (facing the Arch) is even more muted, with only an exit or two leading to paved paths into the Memorial.

Block Arcade, Melbourne, Australia
Walking through the interior of the Arcade, however, the marketplace buzzes with a level of activity only hinted at from the outside, as locals and tourists browse, sample and purchase tasteful goods. The most striking visual element is the long, towering, curved hallway, flooded by natural light from the Arcade-length skylights. Small retail shops are recessed into either side of the Arcade hall, with several larger spaces for eateries and specialty shops. Possibly, an upstairs portion of this larger northern end could be used for office space as in the Ferry Building, offering views and architectural character unparalleled in the City.

As the Arcade progresses to the south, the building gradually narrows. Combined with the slowly decreasing height, the Arcade has become a more intimate space. Eventually, the commercial aspects of the Arcade fade away, as the now less imposing hall begins its eastward turn toward the interior of the Memorial. At this point, the Arcade exterior has ended at the hill, but the interior in fact continues for several hundred feet. The fact that visitors are now below grade is disguised by the natural light that continues to enter the hall from above. As the end of the Arcade approaches, the hall has become more akin to a large greenhouse, with luscious plants and flowers anticipating visitors’ exit onto the Memorial grounds.

At its smallest (but still comfortably spacious) point, the Arcade arrives at its exterior doors. Visitors exiting the Arcade find themselves on a curved path, approximately fifty feet from the Memorials’ northern pond, leading toward the main center walkway to the Arch. Looking back, visitors see only the very end of the Arcade emerging from the hillside, and realize that their passage through the latter portion of the hall involved a subtle descent to the lower Memorial grounds. The rear of the above-ground portion of the Arcade is viewed a considerable distance from the visitors’ current location, and does not infringe upon the serenity of the Memorial. Satiated and a little more knowledgeable about the St. Louis community, visitors continue on to the day’s main event, as those returning from the Arch head back into the Arcade and onward to the City.

      Gateway History and Cultural Center

Now imagine approaching the far southwest corner of the Memorial from Spruce Street, perhaps having just enjoyed a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium two blocks away. A paved, tree-lined path leads you from the boundary of the Memorial to a curved building of steel and glass. A narrow end of the building rises from the southwest corner of the Memorial, turns into the Memorial grounds, and extends eastward toward the Mississippi. Upon entering, the building is revealed to be a brilliant museum—the Gateway History and Cultural Center.

The Center would both expand on and refine the ideas presented in the existing Museum of Westward Expansion. Themes of national migration would be explored in more detail, but so would regional ideas on the St. Louis area, the Mississippi River, and the Memorial itself. St. Louis would properly be presented not only as a gateway for westward migrants, but also as the final destination of immigrants who first formed the diverse neighborhoods that make the City great today. This blending of national, regional and local themes would be of significance to residents and non-local visitors alike, consistent with the character of the Memorial as both a national site and a critical element of its local urban surroundings.

As with the Arcade, visitors are aware of a change in the scale of the Center as they walk through it. In this case, however, the Center gets larger—both wider and taller—as visitors proceed from the western entrances toward the River. The modernist building facades, constructed primarily of glass with visible steel supports, provide visitors with unobstructed views of the Memorial grounds and portions of the surrounding City, particularly from the upper-level balcony areas extending along the perimeter of the Center.

General Location of Gateway History and Cultural Center
The easternmost end of the Center also is constructed of glass, allowing visitors to overlook the River and view the new Memorial improvements in Illinois. Consistent with the existing topography, the end of the Center juts out over the current southern outlook, thereby preserving both the overlook and the existing paths. From here, the Center provides almost panoramic views of the Arch, the Memorial grounds, the River, and nearby Illinois. The exhibits on the upper-level balconies parallel the visuals, educating visitors on both the Memorial’s surroundings and the Memorial itself.

The expansive eastern end of the Center contains the bulk of the display areas, and also serves certain functional purposes. Here, for example, visitors can purchase tickets for a ferry ride across the River. After enjoying the Center’s exhibits and views, visitors descend from the Center to the southern outlook, continue down to the ferries docked on the River immediately below, and continue their Memorial experience with a trip over the Mighty Mississippi to the new Memorial grounds in Illinois.

Thematic and Design Elements

As readers may have guessed by now, the curved and tapering design of both the Arcade and the Center is based on—what else?—the Arch. More precisely, each building is constructed more or less along the same curve and on the same scale as one of the great Arch legs.

At first, the idea of modeling the buildings on the Arch may seem simplistic and/or gimmicky. Consider, however, the various thematic and design elements that I believe make the Memorial ideally suited to improvements of this nature. Those elements fall into three broad categories, corresponding to three primary design objectives: (1) to evoke the Arch through the curvilinear nature of the buildings, theme of two interdependent halves, and other “Arch-significant” features, while expressing deference to the Arch as the Memorial’s showpiece; (2) to engage the Memorial grounds in new ways, while minimizing impacts on the existing landscape; and (3) most critically, to frame the Memorial in a way that literally connects the Memorial, the City and the River, and reflects the site’s hybrid status as both a site of national importance and a critical component of a downtown urban neighborhood.

      Evoking and Deferring to the Arch

As noted in the 1996 Cultural Landscape Report for the Memorial, the curvilinear nature of the Arch permeates throughout the Memorial. In Saarinen’s words, “[a]ll the lines of the site plan, including the paths and roads, and even the railroad tunnels, have been brought into the same family of curves to which the great arch itself belongs.” The graceful curves of the Arcade and the Center are an extension of this theme, intended to fit within “the same curved-form world” envisioned by Saarinen. Similarly, the buildings are consistent with Senator Danforth’s own vision for “architectural quality consistent with that of Saarinen’s magnificent Arch”—in a very literal sense.

(Credit: National Park Service)
The length of both the Arcade and the Center would correspond to the length of an Arch leg (although height and width would almost certainly have to vary), giving visitors a real sense of the scale of the Arch legs as they passed through them. There have often been calls for creating a shadow image of the Arch on the Memorial grounds to highlight the height of the Arch. The Arcade and the Center take this idea even further, allowing visitors not only to appreciate the grand scale of the Arch legs in a new way, but, in a sense, to walk through them.

The Center would go even farther than the Arcade in imitating the Arch, by using its equilateral-triangle shape such that the Center is a true replica of an Arch leg. Imagine an Arch leg laid on its side, and viewing it from across the Mississippi. At the southernmost end of the Memorial, one sees the vertical triangular face of the Center’s endpoint, extending over the existing south overlook. The Center continues westward toward downtown, and then curves south and “downward” such that the narrow end of the Center ends at a lower grade at the southwest corner of the Memorial. The Center as constructed in this style would be unique, geometric, simple and modern—just like the Arch.

Beyond emulating the scale and form of the Arch legs, the creation of two separate buildings is suggestive of another key aspect of the Arch design. The Arch consists of two interdependent legs, each of which was constructed simultaneously and joined together. From a structural perspective, each great Arch leg on its own is relatively weak, but their mutually-supportive union gives them great strength. A similar analogy applies to the Arcade and the Center—not that either on its own is “weak,” but that they complement each other in a way that exponentially strengthens the overall Memorial experience. Thus, the design of each building as a “half-arch” is not a defiling of the overall form, but rather an intentional way to symbolize a meaningful aspect of the Arch’s design.

This notion of “greater than the sum of its parts” is further exemplified by the contrasting themes and architectural styles of the two buildings. On the one hand, the Arcade pays tribute to the local flavor of the St. Louis region, both in content and in its design as a brick building in the traditional style of the pre-Memorial site. The Center’s structural-expressionist design, on the other hand, evokes the modernity of the Arch. Together, the Arcade and the Center are intended to symbolize the Memorial’s marriage of a 19th-century urban grid with a marvel of modern engineering. To borrow a phrase from Saarinen, it is this “close juxtaposition of old and new” that makes the St. Louis waterfront a place of extraordinary potential unlike any other.

In addition to adopting the brilliant simplicity of the Arch’s overall form, other meaningful design elements would be used throughout the Arcade and the Center to call to mind the Arch. These “Arch-significant” features could include, for example, the use of 71 windows, skylight sections or other building components along the length of one or both of the buildings, signifying the same number of sections used to create each Arch leg. Geometric shapes related to the Arch (e.g., catenary curves and equilateral triangles) also would be subtly incorporated into various structural or architectural aspects of the Arcade and the Center.

The theme of “deferring” to the Arch is primarily expressed through the Arcade. As opposed to the Center that grows in size as it extends eastward (thereby anticipating the mightiness of the Mississippi it overlooks), the below-grade tapering of the Arcade is intended to achieve a smooth, peaceful transition from the Arcade’s commercial aspects along Memorial Drive to its serene, garden-like elements as it extends into the Memorial grounds. As the Arcade leads visitors toward the path to the Arch, it is designed specifically to yield to the Arch.

The Center might be said to defer to the Arch in a different way. Again, the vertical face of the Center pointing out toward the River would be a large equilateral triangle, located approximately 1,500 feet to the south of the center of the Arch. One might think that would take away from the Arch when looking at the Memorial from the east, for example. Keep in mind, however, that the Arch would be many times taller than the Center—the latter would simply be dwarfed by the Arch just like all of its existing surroundings. In a sense, the relative shortness of the Center (which is actually a substantial building) when compared to the Arch would serve to highlight the magnificent scale of the Arch.

      Engaging Memorial in New Ways, While Preserving Grounds

The Arcade and the Center as described above likely conjure the image of buildings that are inappropriately large for the Memorial grounds and spoil its tranquility. In fact, the buildings would be located and positioned in a way that preserves almost all of the Memorial grounds in their present form, while allowing visitors to engage the grounds in new and interesting ways.

General Location of Gateway Arcade (above-ground portion)
The above-ground portion of the Arcade would be wholly located at the northwest corner of the Memorial, and would extend no further south than Locust Street. The Center would be located at the end of the Memorial’s south half (which is several hundred feet longer than the north half), preserving the overall symmetry of the archgrounds along the east-west axis. The entire core of the Memorial grounds, including the existing ponds and paths, would be untouched. The buildings would be contoured to the site’s existing topography to the greatest extent possible, and all removed trees would be transplanted elsewhere in the Memorial. In this way, neither building “destroys character-defining features” of the Memorial, a critical aspect of complying with the Plan.

(Credit: Kris Kumar)
Not only do the buildings minimize impacts on the Memorial grounds, they are designed to allow visitors to interact with them in new ways. The Arcade’s exit onto the lower Memorial grounds and the new paths around the northern pond allow visitors to explore areas of the Memorial that, as of now, are greatly under-utilized and under-appreciated. In addition, the curved design of both buildings creates interesting and unique spaces within the Memorial, such as the Gateway Plaza adjacent to the Arcade, and areas for outdoor exhibits and displays near the western end of the Center.

Most notably, the Center, with its sweeping northward views over the Memorial grounds from the indoor balcony areas, would permit visitors to connect with the Memorial in a completely new manner. It might seem unusual or unnecessary to design the Center to provide views over the Memorial and the River, given that there is an existing 630-foot structure that provides incredible lookouts over those very things. I think, however, that this is an important feature of the Center for two primary reasons.

The first is somewhat functional. Although millions of people visit the Memorial every year, the vast majority do not actually go up in the Arch for one reason or another, such as time constraints, inaccessibility, and personal phobias (fear of heights or claustrophobia). One purpose of the Center is to create new lookouts for the many visitors who don’t (or won’t) go up in the Arch—although, of course, the view would not be anywhere near as majestic as that provided by the Arch. The Center also provides an alternative to the existing outdoor overlooks, which appear to be largely unused and are not practical for much of the year due to the Midwest weather. (As a sidenote, this last point ties in with a key functional aspect of both the Center and the Arcade, which is that they are capable of being enjoyed by visitors year-round, as contrasted with multiple unconnected buildings or facilities erected along the perimeter of the Memorial.)

Dan Kiley
(Credit: Office of Dan Kiley)
The second reason for designing the Center so that visitors can overlook the Memorial is to recognize and celebrate the Memorial grounds—as opposed to only the Arch itself. As noted by Bob Moore, the NPS’s Arch historian, Dan Kiley believed that people did not fully appreciate the landscape or “consider that there’s a design element to it, the way that you move through a space.” Even the NPS’s current website states that “the magnificent Gateway Arch, so enthralled the competition judges (and all later viewers) that it not only dominated the site but made people forget that a specific landscape was also designed to correspond with and enhance the Arch.”

Given this widespread lack of appreciation for Kiley’s masterwork, why not give the public a way to view the Memorial landscape while educating them as to its meaning and purpose? The Center would include a major exhibit within the balcony viewing area that would celebrate Kiley’s creation as a work of genius in its own right, thereby enhancing Kiley’s public profile and legacy. I understand that a key point behind the design of the grounds is to frame the Arch “while not calling attention to itself,” but I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving proper recognition to a critical, yet largely unrecognized, aspect of the Memorial’s design. Is there any reason that the grounds must remain an “invisible” aspect of the overall Memorial, as opposed to being honored and celebrated?

      Framing the Memorial and Connecting the City, the Arch, and the River

A key goal of the design competition is to “weave [the Memorial] back into the fabric of the city and the region . . . rejuvenate connections . . . welcome and draw people for repeated visits . . . and re-energize the region for living, working and visiting.” The NPS’s express intent, then, is not only to refreshen the Memorial itself, but to transform its relationship with the City and the City’s residents. A bold goal indeed—and one that I believe will not fully be realized without the construction of major destination attractions that powerfully draw people from the City into the Memorial and to the River.

I believe that the Arcade and the Center achieve this very result. Creating two world-class destinations, markedly different in content and design yet complementary in purpose, would not only attract large numbers of new tourists, but would draw St. Louisans into the Memorial on a frequent and recurring basis, invigorating downtown from I-40 on the Memorial’s south to Washington Avenue and the Eads bridge on its north. The Center and the Arcade—with the latter having frontage directly on Memorial Drive—would pull residents, workers and visitors from the City directly into the Memorial grounds, and all the way to the River. Conversely, the buildings—particularly the Arcade—would lead Memorial visitors back to the City, enticing them to continue their exploration of the City’s offerings (e.g., Washington Avenue and future revitalized areas). In this way, the Arcade and the Center would strengthen the symbiotic relationship between the Memorial and its urban home, directly accomplishing the NPS' goal of reconnecting the City to the Arch and the River.

As far as “framing” the Memorial, the Arcade would extend the City directly to the Memorial boundary, with its graceful, curved design effecting a smoother transition than would linear buildings constructed along the Memorial’s perimeter. The design thus creates an appropriate balance between literally connecting the City to the Memorial, and keeping the more severe aspects of the urban grid at bay from the archgrounds. The Center frames the Memorial in an entirely different way, by just reaching to the edge of the City, extending the entire width of the Memorial, and ending with majestic views of the River. Together, I believe that the Arcade and the Center “provide appropriate transitions from the adjacent urban areas and the riverfronts to and from the Memorial,” consistent with the requirements for the Plans’ Streetscape/Riverscape zone.

      World-Class Local?

On the excellent site The Urbanophile, urban analyst Aaron M. Renn envisions for the Memorial the creation of “something that simultaneously embodies the best of [three] approaches to make something totally new.” These three approaches are (1) starchitecture (i.e., a bold and unique design by a “star architect”); (2) emulation (i.e., the adoption of strategies from elsewhere to fit the local market); and (3) traditional (i.e., building in the historical local style). Renn suggests that such a combination would result in what he calls “world class local” or “world class St. Louis”—in other words, “[s]omething that aspires to reach the quality of the Arch, but in a way that is unmistakably of the local soil.”

It is certainly presumptuous to suggest so, but in my view, the Arcade and the Center—both in terms of their content and their general design in the image of the Arch—fit the definition of “world-class local” precisely. First, I view the buildings as starchitecture with a twist, in that they—the Center in particular—are based on an existing design of a world-famous architect. Using a variation of Saarinen’s own vision, as opposed to a wholly original design, is appropriate given the theme of deferring to the Arch, thus avoiding having the work of another “starchitect” detract from the Arch. Second, the Arcade emulates a concept successfully employed in San Francisco, and architecturally, both buildings emulate the Arch itself. Third, the Arcade exterior would be designed in the style of the pre-Memorial waterfront, thereby restoring the traditional urban grid to a small portion of the Memorial grounds. Together, might the Center and the Arcade rise to the level of “world class St. Louis”?

Final Thoughts

So, is revitalization of the Memorial on this scale achievable? Thankfully, the St. Louis community and local, state and federal public officials have recognized the need and opportunity for change, and are rising to the challenge. The NPS clearly agrees that there is room for significant adaptations to the Memorial—that it need not remain a snapshot frozen in time, forever unchanged from its original design. The question, in my mind, is simply whether the NPS and the winning design team will strike the right balance between revitalization and preservation, or will fall short of creating bold new improvements that truly reconnect the City to the River and the Arch.

I believe that this critical goal is best achieved through the construction of buildings that are so unique and first-class that they greatly enhance the overall Memorial experience, causing local residents to visit the Memorial and the River on a frequent, recurring basis. One easily envisions this with the Arcade and the Center, with non-local visits becoming a multi-day destination event. Less significant “tweaking around the edges” of the Memorial would fall short of achieving the competition’s primary goal, even if accompanied by the relocation or lidding of Interstate 70 and the development of a new Memorial Drive (a critically important step, but one that should be seen not as the end result but simply the first necessary precursor to re-joining the City with the Arch and the River).

Support Your Park (link)
The NPS clearly has worked hard to get the revitalization process to where it is, and should be commended for viewing the Memorial in its appropriate context as not only a national site, but a vital component of the City of St. Louis. At the same time, NPS caretakers are—understandably and appropriately—fierce protectors of the Memorial, and those desiring major renovations cannot fairly begrudge their efforts to protect the Memorial by limiting the scope and location of those renovations.

An appropriate balance between revitalizing and preserving the Memorial must be struck. In striking that balance, however, the residents of St. Louis and visitors to the Arch from around the world should expect—and demand—nothing less than a magnificent result. To achieve such a result, I think the NPS needs to consider major improvements with more flexibility than the Plan seems to permit, and that there are ways to do so without betraying its duty to protect the overall integrity of the Memorial. In the end, my hope is that the NPS and the winning design competition team dare to dream big, and give St. Louis and the world a superlative result worthy of the Memorial. If we are going to embark on the massive undertaking of redesigning a national memorial site in our backyard, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to the outcome, why settle for anything less than a grand slam?

Eero Saarinen
The vision presented above, with the Arcade and the Center as key new attractors to the revitalized Memorial, is an attempt to describe one hypothetical grand slam. I believe that both the Arcade and the Center are appropriately respectful of the Memorial and the Arch, consistent with Saarinen’s belief that a building “must be carefully related to the whole in the outdoor space it creates” and that “its mass and scale and material . . . must become an enhancing element in the total environment.” At the same time, I think that destination attractions of this nature would completely and permanently transform the relationship of the City to the Arch and the River.

For any number of financial, legal and practical considerations, this vision may be an inappropriate realization of the competition’s goal—it’s just one idea, without the benefit of architectural, engineering, or urban planning expertise. I readily concede that it may be far removed from the appropriate fulcrum point on the balance between revitalizing the Memorial and preserving its historical character. It almost certainly has been nothing more than an exercise in thought, given the ongoing design competition and the NPS’s restrictions as imposed by the Plan. Perhaps—hopefully—whatever improvements do get built will fully realize the lofty goals set for the competitors. In any event, I hope these ideas at least serve to encourage and inspire St. Louisans to stay engaged in thinking about, and participating in, the ongoing revitalization of the Arch, the River, and the City we all love.


  1. You put a ton of thought into this. I am impressed. I will post more thoughts later!

  2. Thanks, This is a great encouragement.

  3. The time and effort you put into this is commendable. You've certainly but some thought into it, and I think your head is in the right place. Consider though,

    Which do you like better the Delmar Loop or Union Station?
    What does this arcade offer that Union Station or St. Louis Center lack?
    How does a long linear building shaped very much like a wall improve access to the park?

    Getting all the tenants you mention would be an incredible feat, and is perhaps harder than getting the building put up in the first place.

    The removal of I-70 and the creation of a New Memorial Drive would allow for many blocks of new development facing the park. Not only would these blocks be able to provide the retail tenants you describe, but also more residential and commerical options in storeys above (customers for said tenants). The creation of these blocks could also maintain grid integrity and allow access to the park across the boulevard at every single block. A long inward looking arcade with no street presense and no through access is far less desirable in my mind.

    There could still be a place for your arcade, of course. I just think St. Louis has enough buildings as barriers downtown. Before entering into a giant project, we might consider something more organic and similar to the original forty square blocks that occupied the site.

  4. Thanks for the great post. I would make a suggestion to take a look at another potential focus of the Gateway Arch green and brown space. As someone who strolls the current Arch grounds on a regular basis (our headquarters are located on the Landing and we operate the Arch trams and Riverboats), the opportunity to stroll, job, bike, skate and play are important aspects of the community enjoyment of the area. Right now, the area has many connectivity issues (I-70, lack of bike access or accommodation, pedestrian crossings) that should be enveloped enter future visions so that not only the space is enjoyable, but also the journey to it.

  5. This is also a bit of a sidetrack, but interestingly related...during the design of MetroLink, artists were brought on to help promote continuity of the system and also artistic interpretation of the St. Louis region. One of the results? The sloping half-arch piers used in MetroLink bridges.

  6. Ben @ St. Louis EnergizedApril 29, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this very long post, and especially to those who commented, e-mailed and tweeted on it.

    In response to Daron's thoughtful post, I agree with him that, generally speaking, smaller-scale infill is the key to successful revitalization, as noted in an initial e-mail I circulated when I created this site. I think, however, there is room for (and a need for) both small- and large-scale development, and that the Memorial and the riverfront are uniquely suited for the latter. (Understand that I'm not talking about full-scale retail/commercial development of the riverfront.)

    I don't want to spend much time defending my imaginary buildings (I already did that in the original post), but in response to Daron's questions:

    1. The Loop is one of my favorite places in St. Louis (I live nearby).

    2. The key to the Arcade's success would be that it's not just a "mall"; it's a gathering of the best of local/regional St. Louis (independently-owned, artisan foods, etc.). That concept has been enormously successful at the Ferry Building--of course, that doesn't mean it couldn't flop here.

    3. The Arcade would have multiple "walk-throughs" right into the park, and coming from Washington, you could easily go around the side of the building and directly down into the Memorial (assuming new paths).

    4. I think the challenge would be building the buildings, not getting the tenants. Personally, I would love the opportunity to sell the concept to potential tenants. The Arcade would benefit from the millions of visitors to the Arch (built-in foot traffic that places like St. Louis Center don't have).

    All of that being said (and at the risk of negating everything I said in the original post about the need for significant above-ground improvements on the Memorial grounds), if City to River's vision was fully realized (removal of I-70 and new buildings along a new Memorial Drive), then I think that also would be a fantastic result.

    If you haven't already, please check out

  7. i very much appreciate this article. it impresses me the thought that went into this which appears to be an original idea. i disagree with it fromn the start though. "I" personally think that we should not encourage private business on the arch grounds. bordering, fine. but local or not, businesses should not be able to exploit an architectural marvel that is publically owned. also, the idea of a market place would create loads of trash on the purposely pristine grounds. those are just a couple gripes, although i do like the architecture ideas and views it would create. like when it would open at the north pond. sounds good. thanks