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Arch grounds design competition narrows; 5 teams picked from 49 vying

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 7, 2010 - Five teams, including internationally known names in architecture and landscape architecture, are about to begin work on plans for invigorating and connecting the Gateway Arch grounds to its surroundings on both sides of the Mississippi River.

The names of the five teams, selected last week by an eight-member jury, are being made public today. The five are among 49 teams from the United States and seven other countries that vied to participate in a national competition sponsored by the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation.

Each of the five teams will receive $100,000, part of nearly $2 million raised privately by the foundation. The not-for-profit foundation includes Arch Superintendent Tom Bradley, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and other community leaders and national park supporters.

The winning teams include anywhere from 15 to 29 members, such as engineering and design firms, artists, and hydrology, ecological and construction experts. The team leaders, mostly architecture and design firms, are:

  • Behnisch Architekten, Stuttgart, Germany, and Los Angeles.
  • Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, New York
  • PWP (Peter Walker and Partners) Landscape Architecture, Berkeley, Calif; Foster+Partners, London; and Civitas, Denver and New York.
  • SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), Chicago; Hargreaves Associates, San Francisco; and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), Copenhagen.
  • Weiss/Manfredi, Architecture/Site Design/Urbanism, New York City.

No St. Louis firm is a team leader, but some are team members. Among them are: Arcturis; Cohen Hilberry and Mackey Mitchell architectural firms; SWT Design; Randy Burkett Lighting Design; Kiku Obata & Co.; Kwame Building Group; Focus St. Louis; and Eric Mumford and Peter MacKeith, both on the faculty in the school of architecture at Washington University.
Although the teams have not yet sketched any plans for public viewing, they did write short narratives giving some thoughts about the work, challenges and potential that lie ahead.

The Valkenburgh team, for example, wrote about how the Arch and its surroundings could, if revived, draw visitors from around the world and become "a centerpiece of civic culture, an engine of regional economic growth, a showcase for sustainable ecological restoration, and a celebration of the national significance of this historic place."

The SOM team wrote that a part of its vision is to generate more activity on the East St. Louis side of the river, and "strengthen St. Louis and East St. Louis relationships with the river and build new, stronger and more connected neighborhoods around the (Jefferson National Expansion) Memorial grounds."

The Judging Process

Donald Stastny, manager of the competition, said that all five teams are "pretty extraordinary groups that have the qualifications, the capacity to understand this complex problem, and the commitment" to come up with thoughtful design solutions. He said they bring local, national and international perspectives, and that "we look forward to working with them over the next few months as their visions evolve and they create their designs." Stastny is CEO of StastnyBrun Architects, Portland, Ore, and has managed other design competitions over the years.

In selecting the five teams, he said, the jury did not ask for any plans or visions. Rather, he said, the jury was looking mostly for "how they would approach it, their experience, creativity, the chemistry within the teams to ascertain how they would work together and collaborate."

The competition schedule calls for the teams to produce their final designs by mid-August, and for the jury to select a winner in September. The goal of the foundation and its supporters is to have the winning design built and ready to go by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Arch.

But before teams get into their serious design work, Stastny said, they'll meet later this month with officials and other interested parties within the design competition area to learn more about the area. That area includes the 91-acre Jefferson National Expansion Memorial with the Arch and the Illinois and the city-owned St. Louis riverfront The design teams also are to come up with ways to connect the Arch grounds with Laclede's Landing, Chouteau's Landing -- and a solution to eliminate the highway barrier that separates the Arch grounds from the rest of downtown.

The teams and the National Park Service officials will also discuss how to invigorate the Arch grounds without compromising the original designs by architect Eero Saarinen and landscape architect Dan Kiley.

"It isn't a hands-off thing," Stastny said. "It is, how do you make those careful modifications and still maintain the integrity of the cultural landscape."

Representatives of the teams will be on hand to talk with the public at a Meet the Design Team" gathering at 7 p.m., April 28 at the Roberts Orpheum Theater downtown. The competition sponsors also are asking the public to share comments, even stories or photos of the Arch that might help the teams better understand the local sentiment about the icon. Those can be posted on the Community Connections page of the competition website, www.cityarchrivercompetition.org , or on City Arch River facebook or Twitter accounts.

Improvements under way

In the meantime, Superintendent Bradley said some improvements are already underway or in the works for parts of the memorial. The Old Courthouse is getting a needed new roof, thanks to $5 million in federal stimulus dollars. Bradley said plans are in the works to make it easier and quicker to get through security at the museum and buy tickets once inside. He said he's been meeting with various groups to talk about bringing in more activities, such as the Christmas concert at the Old Courthouse.

Like others pushing to get the new plan for the Arch and its surrounding finished by 2015, he's optimistic "that we can do it and that it will get done."

Bradley said it will take a mix of public and private money to get the job done although until the winning design is costed out, no one knows how much will have to be raised.

Attorney Walter Metcalfe Jr. is a member of the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, which helped raise the nearly $2 million that will go mostly for the competition. Most of that came from St. Louis individuals and private companies. The foundation worked with the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation to raise the money and because of that arrangement, contributors were able to take tax deductions.

Metcalfe said he believes that when the foundation goes out again to bring in money to finance constructing the winning design, it won't wind up empty handed. He said he's confident that the St. Louis community will help "to find a way to get this done."

To learn more about the design competition and the five teams that were selected to participate, go to www.cityarchrivercompetition.org.

Charlene Prost, a freelance writer in St. Louis, writes frequently on the Arch and downtown redevelopment.