Sheldon Announces Opening Of Steward Family Plaza


­­Walkway and Plaza to Include Vertical Garden, Sculpture, Urban Green Space

The Sheldon is pleased to announce the Grand Opening of Steward Family Plaza, a plaza, walkway and vertical garden on the west side of The Sheldon, on October 18, 2019. The festivities will feature an 8:30 p.m. concert by jazz legend and Missouri native, saxophonist David Sanborn. Tickets for the concert (balcony seating only) are $55 front balcony and $45 rear balcony and are on sale now through MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or at

“As the premier venue in St Louis for music and visual art, we are excited to utilize the outside of our building to present a new, unique and architecturally significant piece of art to the neighborhood and community,” says Anne Bannister, Sheldon Arts Foundation board chair. “As the vines grow up the vertical garden and the ground plants mature, we know that the intimate experience people appreciate about the art presented inside The Sheldon, will extend to their experience in the outside space.”

Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Benjamin Gilmartin, Steward Family Plaza connects The Sheldon with the Jack Galmiche Public Media Commons to the south and Washington Boulevard to the north, and will serve to welcome Sheldon attendees coming for concerts, art exhibits, education programs and community events. In the works since planning began in 2013, the plaza will make a strong artistic, architectural and environmental statement with a large vertical garden, and will communicate the vitality of Sheldon programs and The Sheldon’s place in St. Louis’ cultural landscape.

“With the design for Steward Family Plaza we have tried to create an inviting new public space where St. Louisan’s can hang out and freely enjoy The Sheldon’s world-class music and art,” says Ben Gilmartin. “Its vertical garden’s unique web-like steel structure creates a lyrical pattern which will be overgrown with a rich variety of horticultural textures and colors, ever-changing throughout the seasons.”

“Steward Family Plaza is intended to be a vital new public feature of The Sheldon campus, connecting visitors to The Sheldon’s front door,” says Matt Ferguson of Powers Bowersox, lead architects for the project. “Through landscape, lighting, architectural and graphics strategies, this project builds on and contributes to the momentum of other public initiatives in Grand Center.”

Vertical Garden

The centerpiece of the plaza is a three-story, 208-foot long vertical garden along the entire west wall of The Sheldon’s Emerson Center building, designed by Andrew Colopy of Colbalt Office, in collaboration with Ben Gilmartin. The garden’s sculptural wall is constructed from steel panels, laser-cut in an organic filigree pattern, with steel and fabrication generously donated by Kathy and Robert Williams, Jr. of Williams Patent Crusher. The project’s landscape architect, DLANDstudio, Inc., in collaboration with Scott Woodbury, director of Shaw Nature Reserve (part of Missouri Botanical Garden), have designed the garden to flourish year-round, with native Missouri vines chosen specifically to survive St. Louis’ hot summers and
harsh winters.

The plants will grow up and onto the steel panels, creating an architectural sculpture and urban green space. LED lights are placed in over 200 connecting nodes to create a magical effect at night when the vertical garden is lit.

“The vertical garden is the result of close collaboration between designers and engineers, a one-of-a-kind structure only possible through computer-aided design and fabrication,” says Colopy. “More importantly, it is a beautifully irregular array of steel and vegetation set in contradistinction to the building beyond ­— a new, greener side of The Sheldon.”

Environmental Impact
The garden was constructed using environmentally friendly design. Space saving and sustainable, the vertical garden and surrounding rain gardens and landscaping add green space to The Sheldon’s urban environment. Bio-retention areas and bio-swales, made possible by a Project Clear grant from the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, will divert storm water from the city sewer system. Vertical gardens (or green walls) have been shown to filter air pollutants and absorb CO2, improving the air quality of its surroundings. The use of native plants increases these benefits, with the additional outcomes of eliminating the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and providing efficient water usage — the garden in Steward Family Plaza is expected to divert almost half a million gallons of storm water per year. Green walls also help lower the “urban heat island” effect, and act as natural insulators, leading to decreased energy use to heat and cool the attached building.

Krista Bentson of DLANDstudio says, “The Sheldon plantings demonstrate that aesthetic desires can coexist with the functional; that a landscape using native plants and providing stormwater capture can also be modern and verdant.”

“Even at the scale of a plaza there is potential for larger scale ecological impact,” adds Susannah Drake, founding principal of DLANDstudio. “Our team worked closely with the Missouri Botanical Garden to select plantings attractive to Monarch butterflies and other pollinators to strengthen migration corridors through the central part of the United States.”

Scott Woodbury of Missouri Botanical Garden adds, “The practice of native landscaping is still in its infancy and there is a need to help landscape planners, contractors and educators on how best native plants may be used. There is more to gardens than beauty. When interpreted well, landscapes that incorporate native plants inspire conversations about natural history, ecology and the role people have in supporting biodiversity.”

Enhanced Signage

The plaza will include a new 10-foot tall sculptural sign on the north end of the plaza near The Sheldon’s street level entrance, designed by Cobalt Office, in collaboration with Benjamin Gilmartin. The Sheldon sign is made from 510 individual layers of ¼ inch stainless steel, each fabricated directly from a digital model by waterjet cutting. When stacked, individual layers come together to give the appearance of volumetric, 3-sided letters that read, “The Sheldon.” The improvements also include a promotional video screen facing Washington Boulevard in front of the glass bridge that connects the concert hall with the Emerson Center building.

Gathering Spaces and Sculpture
In addition to public benches and grassy knolls for lounging or resting, the plaza will also include two named gathering areas — the Engelhardt Family Terrace made possible by the Engelhardt Family Foundation, and the Centene Gallery made possible by a grant from the Centene Charitable Foundation. A sculpture, “Steve Wondering if He Could Actually Walk,” a work created in 2015 by Portuguese sculptors João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, on permanent loan from the Gateway Foundation, will also be featured.

The design team for Steward Family Plaza was led by Benjamin Gilmartin, one of the top designers and architects in the country, with experience renovating Lincoln Center Plaza and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York; Public Media Commons in St. Louis; and many other important projects around the world. Gilmartin assembled a team of experts including Andrew Colopy of Cobalt Office as Project Designer, Randy Burkett of Randy Burkett Lighting, Susannah Drake of DLANDstudio as landscape architect, and local architect Fred Powers of Powers Bowersox, all with impressive credentials on many similar projects. General contractor for the plaza is S. M. Wilson & Co.

“S. M. Wilson is pleased to have been a part of the team that brought this unique project to fruition,” says Amy Berg, S. M. Wilson & Co. president. “Nothing like this exists in the region, or perhaps in the country. The St. Louis community is in store for a lovely experience when they visit The Sheldon and take in the new plaza.”

Steward Family Plaza Donors

Steward Family Plaza is made possible by generous leadership support from The Steward Family Foundation and World Wide Technology, Inc.; and Kathy and Robert M. Williams, Jr. and their children Elizabeth Ashley Williams and Robert M. Williams, III; Engelhardt Family Foundation; Wilfred and Ann Lee Konneker; Centene Charitable Foundation; Emerson; Sam and Marilyn Fox Foundation; Lotta and Jeff Fox; David and Barbara Gifford; William T. Kemper Foundation – Commerce Bank, Trustee; Kenneth and Nancy Kranzberg; Sally Levy; Richard and Patricia Marriott; MSD Project Clear; Michael and Noémi Neidorff; Mary Pillsbury Wainwright; Emily Rauh Pulitzer; Regional Arts Commission; and many other generous donors.


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