Student Charrette on Arch Grounds, Riverfront Planned

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Forty-eight students of various design and construction disciplines from five Midwestern universities will be gathering at the Mansion House complex in downtown St. Louis  Nov. 6 – 9 to participate in a unique Downtown/Riverfront Student Design Charrette. The collaborative initiative is aimed at exploring new possibilities for improving the functioning, connections and vitality of the area of downtown St. Louis anchored by the central riverfront, Gateway Arch and arch grounds, Memorial Drive and sections of Interstate 70.

ArchThe event will be held in a currently unoccupied three-story commercial space that is part of the Mansion House complex at 300 North Fourth Street, directly across from the Arch grounds. “The venue, which is being donated for this initiative, is ideal as its east facing windows provide expansive, unobstructed views of the Arch grounds. The venue overlooks the network of roads that currently serves as a barrier between those grounds and the rest of downtown,” said Michelle Swatek, Executive Director of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

AIA St. Louis and the Transportation Engineering Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (TEAMS) are the lead organizers for the charrette, and participants include the schools of art & architecture from Washington University, Drury University and the University of Illinois-Urbana; the Department of Civil Engineering at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo.

The participating students of transportation engineering, art, landscape and architecture from these schools have spent the past several weeks reviewing advance information about the study area, compiled by Patricia Heyda, Architecture faculty member at Washington University. They will convene in St. Louis on Nov. 6, at which time they will be assigned to one of seven teams. The project gets underway that evening at Washington University with a keynote address by Alex Krieger, professor of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. On Friday, Nov. 7, the teams will gain additional perspective about the area and this project through various speakers, a host of presentations and panel discussions at Mansion House, while also touring the project site. They will then engage in an intense design planning period from 8 a.m. Saturday until 1 a.m. on Sunday, and again on Sunday morning from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m.

The charrette will conclude Sunday afternoon with a final open-to-the-public session from noon until 4 p.m., during which students will present the various design concepts that emerge as a result of the process.

Fred Powers, principal with Powers Bowersox Associates and a past president of AIA St. Louis Chapter, initiated the project and is serving as the charrette coordinator. “The collaborative nature of the charrette technique and the intensity involved should yield some imaginative suggestions,” he notes. “I also think the charrette represents a unique learning experience for multidisciplinary students and universities to collaborate and engage in current and important civic issues for our region. Getting the input of young people makes sense as the decisions being made today will impact their generation, much as the original plans for the Arch grounds conceived decades ago have impacted so many since then.”

The overall goal of the charrette is to create design concepts that will enhance the riverfront and arch grounds, better encompass downtown and transform the area into a world-class destination for visitors and area residents. The specific design objectives for the charrette are:

  • To preserve and protect the Gateway Arch as one of the world’s greatest monuments.
  • To view the Riverfront, the Arch grounds and the area extending west across Memorial Drive as one integrated project area.
  • To maximize the use and impact of St. Louis’ two greatest physical assets – the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River – for the long-term benefit and enjoyment of the area residents and tourists.
  • To incorporate attractions and amenities that will make the area a year round activity center.
  • To maximize pedestrian connections to, and within, the overall site.

Organizers realize the project will be a challenging one for the students. “There have been many attempts over the past several years to beautify and connect the Gateway Arch and Riverfront areas. There are many complex engineering issues due to the close proximity of several downtown roadways, including the convergence of several major interstates, that traverses through the study area. Finding a delicate balance for all will be challenging,” notes Michael Trueblood, president of TEAMS. “The complex engineering issues range from pedestrian-vehicle issues to retaining walls and drainage issues to significant infrastructure requirements such as tunneling and bridging. Developing a concept that transcends all of these issues can be done, but it will take cooperation from a number of disciplines.”

Other area experts who will be lending their time to this initiative and providing background information as speakers on Friday morning include: Robert Moore, arch grounds historian; Don Roe, Acting Planning Director, City of St. Louis; Gregory Horn of the Missouri Department of Transportation; Jasen Brown of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Harry Richman, AIA Emeritus, who will share with the students his stories about opening the Arch competition drawing submittals, which ultimately led to the 1947 selection of the design by Eero Saarinen, then a student of architecture at Washington University.  

Friday evening’s panel lineup includes: Eric Mumford, Associate Professor, College of Architecture/Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design at Washington University; Peter Sortino, Director, Danforth Foundation; Tom Bradley, Superintendent of the Arch grounds, and George Nikolajevich, FAIA, principal with Cannon Design.

“This experience will bring together artists, engineers and architects in interdisciplinary teams to develop innovative ideas around an iconic yet dynamic part of the city of Saint Louis,” notes Bruce Lindsey, AIA,
Dean of the College of Architecture at Washington University. “The students’ ideas will contribute to the on-going dialogue about this important part of the city and contribute towards their development as future professionals and citizens. Students are a renewable energy source.”

The charrette is being made possible thanks to the generous support of the Washington University School of Architecture; AIA St. Louis Chapter’s Scholarship Committee; the Gertrude and William A Bernoundy Foundation; Peckham, Guyton, Albers, and Viets, Inc.; Cannon Design, HDR, Jacobs, Mackey Mitchell Associates; Powers Bowersox Associates; TEAMS and Value St. Louis Associates, owner of the Mansion House, which is providing the space at no charge.

To learn more about the upcoming Downtown/Riverfront Student Design Charrette, contact Michelle Swatek at the AIA St. Louis Chapter, 314-621-3484.