Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Still around

No, St. Louis, I haven't forgotten about you.


I had a spectacular visit to the city over Thanksgiving weekend, my second trip into town this year. The sun shone for three solid, beautiful days, and I saw many spectacular sights, old and new.


I'm currently working on some revisions and fixes to the site's existing pages, unifying the formatting, fixing broken code, and setting up a standardized navigation scheme. It's a big job and won't be finished any time soon, but stay tuned. In the meantime, here's a bunch of random photos from two weekends ago.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Syndicate Trust Building, visited and re-visited

I visited the model apartment at the Syndicate Trust recently. Like most of downtown's new lofts, it's a pretty slick, clean, modern space, well-lit and elegant.

It offers some pretty impressive views of downtown, too. Check out the views, the renovation, and a bevy of new and re-scanned photographs at Built St. Louis.

It's always interesting to rework a project page I haven't touched in a while. In this case, I'm reminded of how hopeless and frustrating the Syndicate's situation seemed in the late 1990s. The building repeatedly came within weeks of demolition, and while we lost the Century, the Syndicate survives. Today it's nearly everything that's right about downtown St. Louis - beautiful architecture, mixed use, a bright future.

They just need to fill up that ground-floor retail space, and we'll be all set.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I can hear the wild wind blowin'

Myself and my two intrepid companions were inside the Calvary Cemetery mausoleum Saturday afternoon, when the eerie silence and occasional rumbles of thunder were broken by the creepy wail of the tornado sirens. The mausoleum was closing down for the day, so we had to leave. We got in the car, drove about 30 yards, and the heavens opened up. We stopped outside the cemetery gate and waited out one of the most intense storms I've ever seen.

4:40pm, W. Florissant Avenue

90 minutes later, we were in Old North, enjoying some beautiful sunshine.

6:10pm, Old North St. Louis

Both were startling contrasts with what was by and large a gray and dreary weekend.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Arch Grounds - Too much wasted space

It's been a good long while since I got up on my soapbox, but talk about the Gateway Arch grounds always gets me good and riled up.

The Framing a Modern Masterpiece limited competition has selected 9 teams to redesign the surroundings of the Arch grounds and reconsider ways of "integrating open space into a city’s urban fabric".

Thing is, the problem is not just one of integration, but also of proportion. There's too much "open space" and not enough "urban fabric". This is the basic problem and if it is not directly and boldly addressed, nothing of substance will be accomplished.

Solving that problem requires doing something utterly blasphemous: getting rid of green space, and I mean lots of it. In the Arch's case, that means the gigantic swaths of unused land - including the reflecting ponds that sit to the north and south of the walkways approaching the Arch. These are utter dead zones - uncrossable, unused, unnoticed, and speaking for myself at least, unloved. They are photo opportunities, but not part of the city.

Aerial view of the Arch grounds

The reflecting pond shown here is ringed by distant walkways. I would be thrilled to see everything inside those walkways filled in, the street grid extended into them, and new buildings in the 2- to 6-story range constructed on them. A curving line of modern facades could front the walkways approaching the Arch, bringing the life of the city and the destination power of the Arch together, framing the Arch as part of the city rather than an abstract and distant sculpture. Hold the buildings back a few feet, enough to preserve the line of trees on the north and south walkways, include retail and restaurants and living space, and you've created a streetscape as lovely as any in the city, while answering the inevitable question of tourists walking out after visiting the top of the Arch: okay, what do we do now?

I would urge the competition teams not to get lost in grand visions of cutting-edge design philosophies, abstract notions, and isolated instances of avant guard design. St. Louis is a gridded 19th Century American city. This is a simple, basic concept that has worked for two hundred years, and it is what will work best here, too. The entire problem is that the grid was violated, desecrated, and ignored. This is not a new problem, requiring radical and untried visionary solutions; it has been confronted and solved many, many times in recent decades.

The mission is to bring the city and the Arch grounds together. This is not an abstract or philosophical mission. There is no reason not to be quite literal about it - in fact, anything else will result in failure. The Arch isn't going anywhere, so bring the city to the Arch.

The Arch grounds stole away forty square blocks of downtown St. Louis. It's time to give some of it back.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A different face of North Broadway

Everyone knows the old tenement by I-70. Its wide facade, marked with fire escape balconies and a regular grid of windows, is one of the highway's most distinctive sights. Local graffiti artist Ed Boxx made it his canvas for a time. And every time I passed it, I thought to myself, I have got to photograph that place some time.

Image courtesy of Chris Naffziger

That thought eventually combined with an exploratory adventure in the summer of 2006, when I was first introduced to the idea that, among all the heavy and light industry east of the highway, there were actually houses. Whole or fragmentary neighborhoods once stood on this land. Michael Allen once observed that today's "Old North" neighborhood doesn't even include the original North St. Louis town boundaries to the east. Today, abandoned and recycled houses could be found left and right, in a long thin swath from Old North to Baden... but they were disappearing fast, like this batch from that 2006 trip.

This was a fascinating notion. Did people still live there? (Yes, but not many.) What kind of environment are they in? (Isolated.) What would happen to the surviving houses? (Abandonment, followed by demolition.) Here was a conundrum - not many people would be willing to move into such environments, totally surrounded by industrial uses, which means that as each current occupant gives up the ghost and moves on, the houses tend to fall into abandonment. And yet, people do still live in a few of these places. Others have been converted to businesses, or even assimilated by the industrial concerns that devoured their neighborhood.

I still have some areas left to document fully, but the Forgotten Houses of North Broadway shows the bulk of these isolated survivors, fragments of an earlier era for the St. Louis riverfront.