St. Louis Arch Renovations Aim to Revitalize an Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley Landscape

The renovation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (home to the St. Louis Gateway Arch) has gone through dramatic changes since its birth 70 years ago. The original proposal for the memorial and its landscape, devised in 1947 by architects Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley, laid dormant until funding became available in 1957. Saarinen died […]

The renovation of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (home to the St. Louis Gateway Arch) has gone through dramatic changes since its birth 70 years ago. The original proposal for the memorial and its landscape, devised in 1947 by architects Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley, laid dormant until funding became available in 1957. Saarinen died shortly after in 1961 and the National Park Service (NPS) finalized the plans with Kiley. The NPS took complete control of the project in the early 1970’s and considered the design finally complete in 1983. “All the federal legislation and design intent in that time had gotten a little confused,” says Gullivar Shepard, principal of the Brooklyn-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), the firm that led the memorial landscape’s latest redesign after winning a competition in 2010. “We recognize that the parks service is built for change and to preserve, but this whole project was about radical change.”

According to Shepard, eighty percent of visitors weren’t aware of the museum located underneath the Arch. “We’re finally taking this 70-year project and actually fulfilling this as a planning anchor and a core at which a vibrant downtown is being built,” says Shepard. A total of $221 million was raised from private donations for the recent renovations, making it the largest private investment made in a US National Park. “[People] got engaged here, they celebrated every 4th of July here,” says Eric Moraczewski, executive director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, the non-profit organization that’s overseeing the memorial’s renovations. “When you have that emotional tie to the community, and there is a chance to refresh and fulfill the vision of Eero Saarinen, people want to be a part of that opportunity.”

When MVVA took the reins in 2010, the firm proposed 14 different decision points, each a contingent part of a larger landscape development. “[Saarinen’s] project was very consuming for him, the idea of this symbol for the city,” says Shepard, “and our [14 decisions] crystallized a lot of this and let us be honest about where there was real meaning and sensitivity.” For example, one of the “14 decisions,” while seemingly minor, was the installation of light poles. “Saarinen designed a light pole for the park that was never implemented,” says Shepard, and “the parks department installed something very different that wasn’t the original intent. Through serendipity we actually connected with the original pole company, Louis Poulsen, who helped design the poles [we now have.]”

The latest additions include a 46,000-square-foot museum expansion (which was designed by New York firms Cooper Robertson and James Carpenter Design Associates, with Trivers Associates) and new interactive exhibits, as well as a new land bridge which connects the adjacent Old Courthouse to the Arch grounds and the riverfront in one continuous greenway. (Previously, two caged pedestrian bridges spanning Interstate 44 connected the Old Courthouse and downtown St. Louis to the memorial.) 11 acres of new park space, 5.4 miles of new pathways, a grassy amphitheater set in the landscape, and shaded lawns are also being added. “The impact of this is immediate,” says Shepard. “This really is a landscape defined by people’s experiences as they move from an urban environment into a park. The green edge wasn’t our limit, we moved highways, elevated waterfronts.”

The grand opening of the renovation is July 4th, 2018, a date that both Sheppard and Moraczewski feel is fitting for an achievement of this magnitude. “What’s been really beautiful about this partnership is the ability of all of [us] to work through challenges,” says Moraczewski, “whether it’s unforeseen conditions…or historic weather occurrences, we’ve worked through those together. Shepard is equally as excited to see what the future holds: “The park takes on a life of its own, and that’s what I expect to continue going forward.”

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