Sneak Peek: Downtown St. Louis Sculpture Garden

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Bounded by Market, Chestnut, 8th & 10th Streets
Downtown St. Louis, MO

The new City Garden is supposed to open in time for the July 2009 All-Star Game at Busch Stadium, and after taking a walk around it on a glorious spring afternoon, looks like they can make that deadline.  The western block looks basically complete and has a unique feeling about it.  Most of the construction is now in the eastern block, with Pinocchio (above) waiting to be wheeled into his permanent spot.


Previously, I paid little attention to this project because I agree with everything in this Eco Absence piece.  Why our City Fathers continued to stick to a bad plan begun decades ago is mystifying, especially as the parts of downtown they didn’t tear down were surging back to life.  Did they ever contemplate just changing their minds and putting all this land to productive use, like putting buildings back on it?

I felt the same way about the Old Post Office Plaza: why is this even happening in the first place?! And then I experienced the place on a warm, spring evening, all lit up and vibrantly peaceful, and it felt glorious, which made me contemplate What Is vs. The Way it Should Be.

What happened to both the Gateway Mall and the Old Post Office square stubbornly eschewed logic and dispelled the vision needed for an equitable and democratic use of these important blocks.  It still smarts, hard. But it’s done and we have no choice but to move on and hope the people in charge don’t mess it up even more.  In the case of Old Post Office Plaza, it’s an endearing balm for the old wound, and accepted on the terms of “What Is,” it’s truly great.


Maybe the same will happen with Sculpture Garden?  Along with the fine attention to materials and details, I noticed that the new landscape and sculptures were able to alleviate the sting of some of St. Louis’ most soul-sucking post-modern corporate crapitecture.  Wonderous shapes distracted me from the mess that is the south side of Market Street. As the trees get taller it will be possible – by standing just so or sitting right here – to completely block out those nightmares for just a minute or three.

This garden feels like a giant bouquet of flowers to apologize for the horrible things “They” have done to our downtown.  For the sake of moving on, it is often wise to graciously accept the apology and admire both the thought and the beautiful flowers.

See more sneak peek photos here.

11 thoughts on “Sneak Peek: Downtown St. Louis Sculpture Garden

  1. I am jealous- our sculpture garden in Seattle contains mostly ugly, uninspiring art. This looks beautiful and well integrated into the city center- world class. How about some tables and umbrellas for that hot plaza? I’m originally from Memphis and I know you need the shade.

  2. I grew uop in St. Louis in the 60’s I think any improvement to that area down town is great. From what I see so far it looks fantastic. They need to improve the area just south of Busch. I have said that for years. Last time I was in town in 2006, I thought Lacledes landing needs improving too. I loved what they did at the ZOO when we were there. That impressed us the most!

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  4. Devoid of people during most of the day?

    I don’t know if you’ve been there everyday Kenneth, but I personally see it by day and by night many time a week and the place is ALWAYS filled with LOTS of people, families, tourist, people working close by, etc. I am not originally from here and I seen many deserted urban spaces, and City Garden is not one of them – quite the opposite actually!

    The park is interactive, nicely realized and does not lack of imagination and/or greenery.

    4 thumbs up!

  5. The Old Post Office Plaza proves beyond a doubt that what downtown St. Louis needs is buildings & people not more carelessly done open space; It seems that not enough thought went into its planning.
    Because the sun beats down on the largely concrete plaza for much of the day during the summer and the young trees in the plaza will take many years before they will be large enough to provide any significant shade, the plaza is a lifeless space which is devoid of people during most of the day.
    One of the downtown organizations has presented some concerts at the plaza during the summer (in the evenings of course), but the problem is that the plaza’s design is not user friendly for either performers or audience; The place that the groups use as their stage is near the main staircase,just to the east of the moat which means that they face two thirds of the plaza. Seems logical except the midddle section is a huge stone floor that radiates heat while the eastern third consists of stone slabs which function as benches set amongst the trees. The worst feature is that in both sections the land slopes away from the performance area. The western third contains some steps which face the moat and could serve as a mini amphitheatre if the bands were turned around. This would mean that the band would look across the moat at the audience and would be using only the western-most section of the plaza. Also kids playing and swimming in the pool could get either performers and/or audience wet.
    I’m from San Francisco so I wonder when people here will wake up and realize the downtown is too valuable to waste on peopleless plazas when what they need here is population density and that despite suburban malls that there is room for downtown development. It seems a shame that buildings in downtown like the Metropolitan tower and the central business district lofts contain no significant retail.
    Poor Saint Louis. RIP!!

  6. It looks nicely done (potentially). If I worked nearby, I know where I’d be taking my lunch.

  7. Bryan, I totally agree – the skating rink was fantastic! I would love to have a permanent rink installed somewhere downtown in the future.

  8. By the way, I wish that they would provide similar landscaping on the Sera block.

  9. “Back in the day,” Toby, when I worked downtown (1990-2001), I’d periodically take breakfast or lunch in Bank of America’s second-floor cafeteria, due south of this site, and that two-block area only ever “popped” when the traveling ice-skating rink visited St. Louis during the winter. THAT, though, genuinely ranked as a sight to see. People–singletons, couples, entire families–poured into downtown to go skating, entirely independent of “suit”-related concerns (i.e., the financial services industry and FSI-controlled sporting events). Downtown felt like a real place…

  10. You conciliatory comments are helpful in moving the dialogue into more productive, proactive directions. There’s no question that analysis and evaluation and critique are essential.

    For projects of this sort, once they’re in motion, my tendency is to observe, let them come to life and then consider what works, what doesn’t and how such a task can be better accomplished in the future. Additionally, considering what can and should be done on adjacent blocks and what can these series of unplanned incidents can tell us about improving our methods in the future.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting remarks. The manner in which your stunning photographs are presented is wonderful.

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