The author summarized the five teams still vying in the competition along with their design philosophies, presented in brief, 15-minute presentations in which no questions were allowed from the audience.
- 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.
It's important here to note the ramifications of the removal of I-70. Does a removed I-70 promise instant development along the old interstate right-of-way? Of course not. The land where the highway once sat, upon removal, might sit as a landscape boulevard with few buildings of note for quite some years. Almost certainly, the entire 1.4 mile stretch of the new Memorial Drive that would take the place of the old I-70 will not be filled with urban-formatted buildings by the time the design competition's winning proposal is completed in 2015. This sounds very pessimistic, right? It seems to defeat the purpose of undertaking something so exciting and momentous as giving a stretch of road back to the city and its people rather than to speeding vehicles. After all, if the "new" Memorial Drive is in fact just a landscaped but largely lifeless boulevard in 2015, City to River will have failed and all skeptics of the City to River concept will have been vindicated, right?
Wrong (at least in my opinion!). An empty, but pedestrian-oriented, Memorial Drive will create an opportunity that does not presently exist--development could then locate on the periphery of the Archgrounds and create a "spine" of activity linking neighborhoods to the north (Carr Square, Columbus Square, Neighborhood Gardens, the Bottle District, Laclede's Landing, the Near North Riverfront, etc.) to their downtown. The present mess made by I-70 as it slices through a once functional grid is reason enough to abandon this alignment. Pedestrians and vehicles alike could safely maneuver a reconstructed street whereas I-70 today merely creates confusion and barriers.
As far as the new Memorial Drive proposed by City to River, and the possibility that it might not attract builders to populate the newly developable parcels, I point you here:
The year is 1951 and these jets are flying just northeast of today's site of the Gateway Arch, which was completed in 1965. It was in 1947 that Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch concept won the international design competition. In anticipation of the competition, most of the dozens of square blocks containing an antebellum manufacturing district were cleared in the early 1940s. So, if all building were gone from the site by 1942, and the site was a surface parking lot, as seen above, by 1951, then for at least 14 years the site of the memorial was not truly public. Considering that the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial didn't even officially open to the public until 1967, we see here that the same competition that netted the ingenious Arch design caused a 40-block swath of the city to go out of commission for over a decade. (I don't count parking lots, even publicly owned and maintained ones, as public places). If this is true, then we should allow for the same grace period for a new Memorial Drive in anticipation of its own greatness. That doesn't mean we as a city shouldn't aggressively market this newly available land or that the design competition won't cause an increase in demand for these blocks. It's just a plea for skeptics to realize that sometimes, as the old moniker goes, great things come to those who wait. The old I-70 alignment's erasure will have been more than justified if, in ten or twenty years, a new Memorial Drive is beginning to kick and thrive.
Now back to the buzz over the five teams. Not having seen the actual presentation, it's difficult to pass any substantive judgment on their concepts. As written up by St. Louis Energized, I despise the idea of Weiss/Manfredi. St. Louisans have had to limbo around barriers long enough! There are no LCD screens; no garish light displays; no amount of lush greenery or ivy screens; there is no sculpture large enough; no pedestrian bridge crazy enough; no public-space-beneath-the-interstate-avant-gardeism impressive enough; no single or multiple solutions to screening and/or incorporating deadening infrastructure into the redesign. While this is surely an interesting proposal from a conceptual standpoint, the design will be inhumane, no matter how flashy it is, if it values "concepts" over people and access. So I am turned off by this description of their philosophy entirely.
I am surprised at the suggestion of the PWP, et al. crew to make changes that are "barely noticeable" to the public. We must keep in mind that the Archgrounds are quite large and that, preserving the landscape largely as is requires that activation efforts on all edges of the Memorial be stepped up considerably. People need to be able to appreciate the passive landscaping of the Archgrounds, or otherwise the respect for its presence in this competition is somewhat ill-founded.
Many of the teams correctly identified that the Arch redevelopment, ultimately, should cater to people. This is a great though often overlooked observation--especially as traffic engineers crunch numbers and determine that the needs of cars somehow take precedence over the needs of people in what should rightfully be the region's greatest civic and public space.
I would not mind a design proposal that dedicated most of its time to addressing issues presented by having an interstate as a neighbor. Remove I-70 (do not tunnel it and merely hide the problem for just four blocks). Incorporate retail or tourist-supporting services within the arches of the Eads Bridge piers. Redesign parking for the site so that the northern edge of the Memorial visually and physically connects with Laclede's Landing and points north. Landscape the riverfront itself--certainly it is one the nation's most barren urban riverfronts today. Have water taxis or some sort of pedestrian bridge to connect to East St. Louis; see to it that the East St. Louis Riverfront indeed becomes home to the world's largest architecture museum, as proposed and sought by the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation. Enhance pedestrian connections to Chouteau's Landing; allocate some funding to the Chouteau Lake and Greenway to jumpstart that project. And so on and so forth. All of these interventions would make the Arch more of a "place" situated in a context--and little would have to be altered within the existing landscape other than its worst features currently, the parking garage and floodwalls.
Despite my earlier comments, I am absolutely thrilled by the excitement over this competition. Its outcome and winning proposal could truly lift the spirits of our city and give us all a place we're proud of. The Arch, downtown, the Mississippi River, and the city deserve it!