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Monday, March 1, 2010

Disrupting a National Historic Landmark

I don't usually dedicate an entire blog post to someone else's blog post, but the occasion calls for it.

Rob Powers of Built St. Louis has posted a provocative piece on the Archgrounds Redevelopment--AKA Framing a Modern Masterpiece international design competition.

Powers argues that the landscaping, while a nice photo-op, is not part of the city. He calls for the landscape surrounding the Arch to be built upon, restoring a street grid and "bringing the city back to the Arch".

It is important to note that both the Arch and its surrounding landscape architecture are listed as a single National Historic Landmark.

How would you feel seeing the reflecting ponds and other green space disappear in favor of an urban street grid?

In my own opinion, the grounds make for a masterful design of deferring to the Arch in every way. The sleek, modernist monument is almost elemental, rising out of passive green space just as sinuously as its curving pathways and reflective lakes.

That said, if an urban streetscape restoration were gradual and were highly invested, I don't know if I would much miss this reflective landscaping. I simply worry about the execution of any construction projects in our time. Craftsmanship and creativity are too often lacking, most markedly when juxtaposed next to our city's cache of historic buildings. Especially if such a project were to have too low a budget or be conceived and built by one developer/builder, I don't think the result would honor our modern masterpiece. I do believe in good, sound contemporary construction--but we would need something especially smart to defer to the silent grandeur of the Arch.

Besides that caveat, I simply doubt the National Park Service would ever go for it. What do you think?


Chris Cook said...

I can't imagine the Park service giving up land. I do sort of agree with him though, the land around the arch is really under-utilized. People park in the lot down by the river, walk up the stairs, wander around the arch, and that's about it.
A first step might be to integrate the grounds better to downtown. If some of the plans remove the highway and allow easier access that might increase the use of the grounds. Adding some walking paths, etc. might be nice, too.

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