Students Explore Redesign Ideas for St. Louis

September 28, 2010

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 fresh, 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.

The event will be held in a currently unoccupied three-story commercial space that is part of the Mansion House complex at 300 N. Fourth St., 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," notes Michelle Swatek, executive director of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

AIA and the Transportation Engineering Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (TEAMS) are the lead organizers for the charrette, and participants include the schools of art and 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 & 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 says. "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.

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," says Michael Trueblood, president of TEAMS. "There are many complex engineering issues due to the close proximity of several downtown roadways, including the convergence of several major interstates, that traverse through the study area. Finding a delicate balance for all will be challenging. 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."