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Meet 'Em in St. Louis
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates wins major competition to transform grounds around Saarinen icon
The planned transformation aims to reinvigorate parkland surrounding the St. Louis Arch while adding new public amenities.
Courtesy MVVA

The team led by the landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has been selected to reinvigorate and expand the parkland surrounding the St. Louis Arch, designed over forty years ago by Eero Saarinen with a landscape by Dan Kiley. The project aims to better integrate the Arch grounds with downtown St. Louis, embrace the ever-fluctuating Mississippi, and create a new park across the river in East St. Louis.

Word that the MVVA team was the likely winner started to leak out on blogs four days before the official announcement was due, forcing organizers to release a statement on September 22. The MVVA team bested a who’s who of architectural, landscape, and engineering talent, including teams led by SOM Chicago with Hargreaves and BIG, Weiss/Manfredi, PWP with Foster and Partners and Civitas, and Behnisch Architekten. Their advantage, however, was not star power, it seems, but rather a willingness to be practical. “MVVA is an outstanding team that presented a winning combination of the ambitious and the manageable,” said Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, in a statement. “They showed great reverence for the beauty and significance of the existing site, while suggesting improvements and attractions in line with our competition goals.”

MVVA selected to transform Saarinen's Arch grounds
The proposal embraces the ever-fluctuating Mississippi River, offering a range of edge conditions for public access.

The MVVA plan calls for a new entrance bridging the Arch grounds with downtown and creating a stronger axis between the memorial and the capitol, improving access from the north and south sides of the existing grounds, and adding new amenities including a new museum at the entrance, a seasonal beer garden and skating rink at the south end, and a new amphitheater at the north end (a barrier parking garage will also be removed). The East St. Louis park will be significantly wilder in feel, with an elevated path offering views of the Arch and the treetops. The proposal also pays attention to ecological conditions, such as rainwater management and biodiversity.

MVVA proposal selected to transform Saarinen's Arch grounds
the Arch grounds will be better integrated with the city and East St. Louis across the river.

The Van Valkenburgh–led team also includes Steven Holl Architects, Greenberg Consultants, Uhlir Consulting, HR&A Advisors, Guy Nordenson and Associates, Arup, LimnoTech, Pine and Swallow Environmental, Applied Ecological Services, Ann Hamilton Studio, James Carpenter Design Associates, Cooper Robertson & Partners, Elizabeth K. Meyer, Project Projects, Vector Communications, and ABNA Engineering.

MVVA selected to transform Saarinen's Arch grounds
the teaµ will consider ecological conditions, including rainwater management and biodiversity, as they reshape the arch grounds.

Working with the competition organizers and stakeholders including the National Park Service, and the cities of St. Louis and East St. Louis, the team will begin revising their proposal according to feasibility and cost constraints. “Between now and January, we will be challenging the MVVA team to rise to the challenge to do what’s best for the city, for the region, and for this national park,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in a statement. “The Arch is a national treasure, but it is intensely personal to people in and around St. Louis.” Competition organizers are also expected to announce a funding mechanism, likely public/private partnerships along with a public authority, to finance and build the project.

Alan G. Brake