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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Urban Review's Steve Patterson deems San Luis Apartments "not a good urban building"--and undermines preservation in the process.

Urban Review St. Louis has released its verdict on the San Luis Apartments: not worth saving, but better than a parking lot.

The photo is courtesy of VanishingSTL.

Here is my list of grievances surrounding Patterson's post:

  1. As a respected (and, by local leaders, feared) urbanist, Patterson's commentary is of particular importance in keeping a prominent corner of the Central West End away from the direction of surface parking. On principle, Patterson has opposed modern buildings that are not "urban" and has declared San Luis unworthy of preservation. He has likely solidified an already extant bias against mid-century modern structures (due to their association with urban renewal). In the fight against surface parking for Taylor and Lindell, Patterson has severely diminished morale.
  2. The San Luis Apartments is a unique building. Its massing and materials are appropriate for Lindell's midrise streetscape. Its street level, while obviously not a top-notch urban space, does not compromise the ability of one more temperate with regard to the reality of automobiles in cities to recognize the building is, in fact, urban. On the Urban Review topic's comments section, a reader rightfully pointed out that the turn-of-the-century decadence displayed on Westmoreland and Portland places is not quite "urban", but nevertheless adds to the character of the Central West End.
  3. Even if the Archdiocese sold the land to the city, which issued an RFP, which netted a proposal, how confident would anyone be that the resultant design would be superior to San Luis? It may address the street level issues, but would the bold architectural heritage of the San Luis be respected? I doubt it. If we cannot build "better" (energy efficient, exercise of skilled craftsmanship, etc.) and build to last longer than what we replace, there should be no consideration of demolition.
  4. Patterson demands of those who insist architecture be saved merely for its accurate representation of a popular style during a specific period: please shoot me. He references the dreary track record of 1980s strip malls as an example. This sort of logical fallacy is damaging to preservation. It is not merely representativeness that deems a building worthy of saving; it is also superior design, contribution to streetscape, and how the building attempts to blend into the existing fabric. I would argue that San Luis accomplishes these with success, even if not a stellar example.
  5. This same "it's not urban" argument can be twisted and manipulated. Why not have torn down St. Aloysius on the Hill if significant residential density--urban formatted homes--would replace it? Why the hell not demolish the Doering Mansion for the much more dense arrangement of Mississippi Bluffs Condos? Steve's argument here was not exactly one of density, as I've made it, but it's but another one of the tenets of Jane Jacobs' bible of urbanism that is never to be defied. Why be willing to sacrifice density but be unwavering in opposition to a building whose pedestrian friendliness is under scrutiny?
  6. San Luis can be reformatted as easily as it could be torn down and replaced. Its street level issues could be addressed.
Urban Review--contributing to the rationale for this demolition is contrary to your mission.

Read the New Orleans Chapter of the American Institute of Architects' statement on the San Luis here.

Also, a typically awesome and well-spoken statement by Michael Allen on the former Hotel DeVille, now San Luis.


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