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.


Chris said...

I hate those ponds too.

Anonymous said...

agree 100%. IMHO the reflecting pools do not "frame the arch" in any way, nor are they particularly attractive. they are just two underused squiggly puddles, and there is already a gigantic reflecting pool directly east of the arch. keep the narrow green swaths directly north, west, and south of the arch (framed by the walking paths) and turn the rest of it back into an urban landscape. like you said, a ring of modern, low-rise buildings would frame the arch much better than dead grass. however, it would make me even more happy to see some key historic buildings reconstructed with historic materials and details outside and modern ammenities inside.

Daron said...

If you leave the trees and lamp posts along the walkways and just remove the geese ponds, then I'd support you on that. If you're digging it up, you might as well expand the museum underneath as well.

Every tree pulled out should be pulled bulb and all, carefully replanted elsewhere. It is possible. They do it in Seoul.

No baby trees in the city limits!

Matt said...

I completely agree with this post. Unfortunately, it'll probably never happen. The city's weird obsession with completely unnecessary and counterproductive "green space" plus complete inability to actually get anything done (see: Ballpark Village) will probably mean something equally useless will go there.

PeterXCV said...

It annoys me that we always go after green space first, despite half of Laclede's landing is parking lots, and we've go that ghastly garage on the north end of the park. Once we get rid of excessive asphalt only then do I think we can begin to think of ridding excessive green space. I'm also saddened that we have taken to killing trees, because we definitely need wide concrete sidewalks and wide open grassy fields called parks.

Howard Park said...

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong but I think the reason there is basically nothing done with the Arch grounds space is that the Feds ran out of money. It took forever to get them to build the monument to Jefferson. I'd like to see something there, perhaps a reconstruction of the old, old St. Louis French village.

Anonymous said...

^^ Peter, saint louis has LOTS of green space and some amazing urban parks. however, we're talking about the city's doorstep and the heart of DT - not exactly the place for a big empty yard. the reason it's coming up now, of course, is that the design competition offers a very real chance to address its utter lack of use. i completely agree that the asphalt needs to go as well, and i'm pretty sure the parking lot at the north end of the grounds is fair game in the competition. i also agree about laclede's landing but, again, that's not something that can be addressed via the competition. hopefully pinnacle will stop razing it for surface parking and actually follow through on some of their development promises.

Anonymous said...

This is madness. The original design for the arch grounds called for the arch to rise up out of a forest. They ran out of money and the grounds were mosty treeless for a generation as the grounds were used for summer festivals and other gatherings. Then they got the money and planted the trees and fulfilled the original plan. Tear out the trees? Put in a street grid? Build buildings? Do any of you do any research first or understand the idea behind the monument and grounds? It represents the wilderness of the Louisiana Purchase. I thought this site was about preserving the integrity of architecture , not destroying it.

Robert Powers said...

If you want something to be in a forest, the best place for it is probably a forest, not a major downtown!

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to leave this as a comment, but not sure how to email you!

There's an exciting new development at 711 N. Grand, the circa 1929 building across the street from Powell Hall. It hasn't been occupied since the 1950's and I've been told it housed the first parking garage in St Louis. It's a very cool building, you can see some pics here on this blog post:

I'm currently researching the history of the building. I wanted to let you know that there will be a chance to tour the building on April 28 if you are interested. Or could you pass this info on to your art & urban renewal friends?

Thanks! Info is below.

Grand Center Arts Academy Open House!

You are invited to hear the exciting updates about the new charter arts school opening in Grand Center in August, 2010.

When: Wednesday, April 28 – 9am – 1030am
Where: Contemporary Art Museum, 3750 Washington Blvd., 2nd floor
Who: Presented by Lynne Glickert, Principal
RSVP: Reply to info @ grandcenterartsacademy . org no later than Friday, 4/23. Space is limited.

Please join us to learn about the details of this first of its kind arts school in the St. Louis region!

Coffee and pastries will be served. Following the presentation, we will tour the school, a historic building on Grand currently under renovation.

Grand Center Arts Academy

Anonymous said...


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1. Old Navy opening a store near Locust & 10th
2. A major preschool/kindergarten opening at 11th & Olive
3. BJC making an offer to purchase Downtown Urgent Care
4. A work/live theme at the LaSalle building, where each floor is 3,000 sf.
5. Club Fitness opening near 8th & Olive or 8th & Locust

If you know about any of these, please post your contact info on this blog, and I'll email you directly. I have a substantial budget for reliable information. Thanks.

adguy said...

As I understand it (and perhaps already commented upon by others in this blog), there is a struggle of wills going on. One group wants to see the Arch Grounds integrated more into the St. Louis urban grid(a viewpoint shared by me -- though obviously, some green should be preserved.) The Arch Grounds is, however, run by the Department of the Interior -- it was ceded to DoI by St. Louis back in the 1930s-40s...and those folks can't imagine actually returning parkland to urban use again. I think that's what Danforth, et. al. have been working against for some time. Right?

Start losing weight said...

Hello yeah im agreed that you have a lot of space wasted cause you need to focus and take advantage of the space

dubai rental property said...

But I loved that pounds, bridge, landscape and everything. The upper view looks so beautiful. It looks amazing..

Anonymous said...

The arch didnt steal away downtown property idiot. Learn some history. the land where the arch now stands was full of vacant buildings and un-usable property. The Arch was erected in a time of renovation and now perhaps the time has come for change. I do agree that the reflecting pools are a waste and I do agree the property in general is under-utilized. However business in the parks grounds? Really? Is that what we need an outdoor Union Station? How about we follow Chicago's lead and put in a gian Ferris wheel to rival the arch? How about we put let the folks over at City Museum have a go and create something truly incredible for kids and adults to marvel at? We dont need more failed stores to become vacant and an eyesore to tourists and locals. We need creativity.

Kyle M Dogtown

A.R.Eatough said...

It always looked, incomplete. The first time I visited it was right after the Arch was finished. I thought they were going to do more with it than what I see now.

But, what do I know...

Anonymous said...

wow. amazing...

@ Anonymous @ 10:30PM: perhaps some of us disagree with the idea behind the monument and grounds because THE HEALTH OF DOWNTOWN SAINT LOUIS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DEWEY-EYED REFLECTIONS OF TOURISTS. the JNEM is the ONLY national park in an urban setting, and it's doing the city no favors in its current state. like mr. powers said, if you want a monument rising out of a forest THEN PUT IT IN A FOREST, NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF A CITY.

@ the idiot @ 5:44PM: do you SERIOUSLY think the author of this blog doesn't know about the history of the site? perhaps YOU should do some research before calling people idiots because they disagree with your opinions. i'd wager he knows a GREAT deal more about the history of saint louis than you. last i checked the definition of "renovation" doesn't include full-scale demolition of 40 square blocks of historic buildings. perhaps at least SOME of those buildings could have been ACTUALLY renovated. and since when is a vacant building unusable? by your definition, there are lots of once-upon-a-time unusable buildings around the city that have been restored and are now in USE again. don't get me wrong – i love the arch – but the arch ABSOLUTELY could have been built without such extensive demolition. and as if you weren't being condescending (or disingenuous) enough, i'm sure everyone who thinks the park is a waste of space would like to see it used "creatively" instead of for a mall. how about recreating some of the historic landing for educational purposes? how about residential? how about SOMETHING for all those tourists to do after they visit the arch? ANYTHING BUT DEAD, VACANT GRASS AND PARKING GARAGES.

Unknown said...

I have visited the Arch, however I am not a local, both sides of the argument have merit. We should always ask ourselves "is this element here for a purpose, or are we following a fad?"

Get rid of the ponds if they are not used, enjoyed, or are under used by citizens.

However, if these areas are frequented by large groups, or play an important role in the daily life of a lot of people, then do not change them.

Eric Matthew said...

Filling in greenspace with more buildings will not solve the city's problems. There are already plenty of unused vacant buildings in the city, especially in the immediate downtown area. The idea of urban parks in not unique to St. Louis nor is having a park in this spot an impediment to downtown activity...the idea that the archgrounds are "St. Louis' doorstep" is insane. At one time, hundreds of years ago, yes. Now? No, the airports and roads are our doorsteps. What the arch grounds are is a monument to what was. Few people in this city realize that the archgrounds are almost the exact size as the original fenced-in settlement of St. Louis. Standing in that empty space and looking around can be a humbling experience when you realize that the empty space around you was once filled with the only "settlement" west of the Mississippi. For better or worse, this is where the destruction of the St. Louis mound group started, this is where the eventual removal and relocation of those who were "here first" began from, this is where the industrial might that was once St. Louis was born, etc. Do the archgrounds need work? Absolutely. Do they need to be filled with more Qdobas and strip malls? Hell no. Giving those who live and work in the area a quality urban park is exactly what we should be after...not more of the same old crap that already surrounds them. I doubt very highly that anyone but developers would consider Tower Grove park or Forest Park a waste of space. I'm not sure where this attitude comes from when discussing the archgrounds.

Anonymous said...

^ i'm not sure why you and others keep bringing up strip malls and Qdobas. NOBODY WANTS THAT. so stop acting like that's the only alternative for developing part of this barren, unused space. the grounds are, indeed, the city's front door as far as what people see in photographs, on television, etc. when was the last time the cardinals came back from a commercial break with a shot of Lambert? and enough with the greens space arguments - Saint Louis almost has more green space than it does buildings. news flash: lots of empty space does not make for a healthy, connected, functional city.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the big picture. Reflective pools are nice as a complement to the Arch, but within a smaller proportion. The need for forestry (okay, TREES), is necessary, but the real issues here are not these items, it is the ability of the city to somehow find the means to integrate Laclede's Landing, the riverfront, the downtown area (with the lid over the highway separating the Arch grounds), the Dome and Busch Stadium, and up Market Street with City Gardens up to at least Union Station. A trolley or or street car (aka the upcoming Loop area).
No argument, something has to be done, but how many years has it been that the Fed did much of anything to spend money on monuments? It is beyond the realm of the city to deal with the Arch grounds.

Anonymous said...

while initially this might have been a good idea to start things off, the city itself was going through transformation and has changed. Consider the fact that had they made a decision differently, would it have synced up with the stretch of gardens that now exist given CityGardens?
The thought still exists that the city has to put a top over the highway and find the means to integrate the Arch grounds to the downtown area. This is the real issue and the need for planning.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me? Why not get rid if the Washington mall too, and the park in front of Chicago. It's nice to see trees & grass in a downtown area. The Arch is a national Monument NOT a Mall. IDIOTS !