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From Design to Construction: The Making of Citygarden in St. Louis

Blogging about the 2010 American Society of Landscape Architects Annual Meeting and Expo, September 10-13, held at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

“We never thought we’d get the job,” admitted Warren T. Byrd, Jr., a principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBWLA). “We were concerned by our lack of experience with sculptural gardens.” 

But after being narrowed down to seven finalists, and rescheduling their interview due to a crippling snow storm, the Virginia firm managed to fly to St. Louis, meet with the panel of judges and win the bid. 

Their challenge: develop a three-acre “urban oasis that is a hybrid between a sculpture garden, a botanic garden and a city park” on two of the 15-block Gateway Mall. Located between Eighth, Tenth, Market and Chestnut Streets and within walking distance of the Gateway Arch, the site was once dotted with buildings. These buildings were torn down 20-30 years ago and the site was vacant. After studying wind direction, sunlight, pedestrian access, and topography, NBWLA decided to draw on local and regional hydrology and geology, particularly the presence of the Mississippi River, and incorporate all these elements into their final design. 

Big White Gloves, Big Four Wheels. Credit: Gewel Maker (Flickr Feed)

The tricky part was incorporating the 23 sculptures already purchased by the Gateway Foundation as a gift to the city. The sculptures had to be open and accessible; there were not to be any “Do Not Touch” signs. 

The land is owned by the city of St. Louis; the non-profit Gateway Foundation owns the sculptures and provided the funding for the design and construction. 

Some highlights of the final design include a green/grey black granite meander wall, stones with multiple finishes, pavement that can withstand lots of water at a less than 5% grade, ramps imbedded into stairs, a giant TV displaying “video art,” a 2,000 square-foot café that seats 80 people inside and out, and the fountains. 

Split Basin. Credit: Gewel Maker (Flickr Feed)

Three fountains were incorporated into the park: the entry basin, 34 feet in diameter with a thin sheet of water sliding off the Eros Benato sculpture; the split basin – named for a waterfall that “breaks” the basin into two parts – 190 feet long, 20 feet wide and 16 inches deep (the upper part turns into a reflecting pool and became such a popular swimming hole for youngsters that lifeguards were hired); and the spray basin, with 104 jets – the most spray jets in any active fountain in the country – that is choreographed to 10 different musical selections, running three-fourths of the year. Nearby are plenty of seats for parents wishing to stay dry. 

The horticultural elements incorporate almost 80 percent native plants and 32 large trees. The trees line an urban promenade along Market Street and mark the old property and foundation boundaries. 

The final price tag for the project came to just under $30 million and took about 28 months to complete, from design and construction phase to opening day. The project incorporated sustainability strategies into the design, with green roofs for the café and maintenance building, rain gardens (internally imbedded and on street level), LED lights for security and safety, and porous/pervious pavement. 

Citygarden will be permanently endowed and long-term maintenance plans are in the works. St. Louis’ newest park has been a big success and truly transformed the downtown. For more information about Citygarden, go here.

London’s A-Mazing Trafalgar Square

Credit: Steve Punter (Flickr Feed)

Sometimes all it takes is an unusual piece of greenery to draw visitors to a part of town not very known on tourist maps. London, England’s Trafalgar Square temporarily received a laurel and thuja hedge maze at the foot of Nelson’s Column earlier this month as part of the West End Partnership’s summer marketing program. 

The program is geared towards tourists who usually bypass Theatreland in London’s West End for more popular locals such as Big Ben and the Change of the Guard. Measuring 98 feet by 66 feet, and almost 8 feet high, the labyrinth was divided into different sections, with the name of a West End street at each segment. Blue plaques with each street name provided quirky, little-known facts about the landmark. Those who reached the center of the maze were rewarded with different cultural shows and performances each day. (There was no cost to enter the maze.)  

The importance of plazas and squares in crowded downtown areas cannot be over emphasized. Having public spaces for a breath of fresh air from stuffy office buildings, smelly buses and crowded subways can be a haven to residents and tourists in cities. Looking at an aerial view of Trafalgar Square, the hedge maze was a major source of greenery in the immediate area.  

The planted hedge remained for five days to the amusement of office workers and visitors. Just months away from the release of the next Harry Potter movie, perhaps grownups and children alike were half expecting to see flying red sparks and hovering Dementors in the maze :-)  

The aerial views and a fun video of the construction of the maze can be found here.

Some news from around…

  • Two different ways to design and program public space: 1) “Street Pianos” are coming to New York, and will be prominently placed in a number of parks. The pianos have been successful in London, São Paulo and other cities. (Village Voice); and 2) from Toronto, color and art comes in the form of painted “nature-inspired picnic tables” in 27 parks throughout the downtown core.
  • Massive redevelopment planned for Washington D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront. Parks and piers will feature prominently. (Washington Post)
  • The Urbanophile brings us this fabulous tour of St. Louis which highlights Gateway Arch and CityGarden.
  • Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square continues to suffer from underfunding. According to the Inquirer, New York’s four acre Bryant Park raises $8 million each year, while 6 acre Rittenhouse square “gets by on a $410,000 operating budget.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Some news from around…

  • Kids rally to save Rice Field Park in Des Moines. ABC 5 has the story about the kids and their organizer, an 11-year old who says the field is the heart of their community.
  • Archpaper covers the plans to redevelop 65 acres in the Port of San Francisco for recreational & commercial use.
  • Birds, people, fish and popcorn: Next American City shows us some photos of San Diego’s waterfront public art.
  • Reconstruction plan in Haiti designates space for  much-needed parks in Port-au-Prince (New York Times).
  • I like Ike. The Dirt reports on the just released designs for the Eisenhower Memorial, adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
  • Business Improvement District plans to transform a Brooklyn parking lot into an art-themed park (NY Daily News).

Sculpture Park Energizes Des Moines

Pappajohn Sculpture Park (Photo: Des Moines Art Center)

A new sculpture park on the outskirts of downtown Des Moines is changing the face of this Iowa city. The New York Times ran a story in their Real Estate section on Des Moines, making substantial mention of the park:

At the center of the Western Gateway neighborhood is a 4.4-acre public park and sculpture garden, with 24 works by Ugo Rondinone, Louise Bourgeois and Deborah Butterfield, among others. The sculptures, valued at some $40 million, were a gift from John and Mary Pappajohn, two local art collectors and benefactors. Jeff Fleming, the director of the Des Moines Art Center, played a central role in grouping the sculptures into “rooms” flanked by an undulating landscape of berms, trees, walkways and grass that was paid for by the city and private donors.

Among the businesses that have settled near the sculpture park is the Des Moines Social Club, a combination art gallery, theater, bar and education center that has enlivened the city’s night life. It is run by Zachary Mannheimer, a theater producer and director from New York who moved to Des Moines after visiting some 20 cities to find a building suitable for his multifaceted entertainment concept. Mr. Mannheimer leases a 30,000-square-foot building on Locust Street that was built in 1919 and operated as a Cadillac dealership. He is trying to raise $4 million to buy and renovate the structure. “We serve as a public house for those who have explored the park and then wish to discuss the work,” Mr. Mannheimer said.

Like almost everything else connected to downtown construction, the park displaying the Pappajohns’ donation was built with unusual speed, about two and a half years from conception to completion. “It’s a wonderful example of what this city can do,” said Mr. Southwell, the Wellmark executive. “The park has been a real magnet. It’s much more popular than what people originally thought it might be.”

That’s a business executive talking. Again we’re learning about another park that has enticed development and cultivation of the arts, not to mention a space that will draw tourists in a city not known for its drawing of visitors. (A previous Times travel section article headlined that “a sculpture garden energizes Des Moines.”) And this is another example of a city creating a central and signature park for public art. The Des Moines Register also has a series of videos and pictures showing the development of the park and interviews with the Pappajohns.

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