The Art & Architecture of Kansas City

For Memorial Day Weekend 2012, I took a tour with Saint Louis Patina of the art and architecture of Kansas City. Previously, I had made a few pit stops attached to music or baseball events in KC, but that was no way to get to know and see the city. This time, I got a good taste – much like a super-size buffet full of endless variety.

As a St. Louisan, we’re used to distinct boundaries of City and County, all clearly marked with signage so you are painfully aware of exactly where you are and who it belongs to. Kansas City is the complete opposite. When you say “Kansas City,” you could be in Missouri or Kansas, it could be city or suburban. They treat it as a seamless metropolis with no hangups about boundary lines, and it’s refreshing, really.

Art and architecture perfectly blended at The Nelson-Atkin Museum of Art, starting outside with the original 1933 building now graced by a 2007 addition by Steve Holl Architects.
See a Slide Show of the buildings and some of the art.

The Nelson-Atkin is world-renowned for its Chinese art collection; I was most impressed with their Modern & Contemporary collection.  I got lost in Wassily Kandinsky’s Rose with Gray, and was literally high from it for a half hour – strong medicine!

They do a brilliant job of blending the furniture and textiles of an era with its art, which gives you a more thorough understanding of the inspiration of that time. To see an Eames 1952 sidechair directly under a 1951 de Kooning painting immediately conjured George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland,” jazz from that era. I could hear ice tinkling in highball glasses and smell cigarette smoke. It was great!

See a slide show of the modern furniture.

See a slide show of some of the modern masterpieces.

On the east side of Kansas City, MO is a section known as The Jazz District. There’s a lot of decay, some demolition (like the Holy Name Church), but also a lot of new development and renovated building stock. To drive through and see an abandoned “castle” (The Vine Street Workshouse) just down the street from a gleaming new modern apartment building was to understand hope and opportunity.  Exactly how does KC do it better than StL? What lessons can we put to good use?

See a slideshow of The Jazz District.
See a slide show of Holy Name Church in demolition.

In downtown Kansas City, MO proper, the Quality Hill section was a delight. Being treated to a church bell concert (courtesy of The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) as the warm wind blew under canopies of mature trees was an awe-inspiring moment. KC MO has an impressive collection of old buildings that remain in use and have been designated historic. They take full advantage of the Missouri Historical Tax Credits, which is why this tax credit constantly comes under attack – KC and StL know the benefits of it, while the rural parts of Missouri see it as a handout. But it’s available to everyone in the state, so see how it works to your constituent’s advantage, rather than attacking it.

See a slideshow of Quality Hill photos.

Over to the National World War 1 Memorial at Liberty Memorial, there was a special Memorial Day Weekend outdoor exhibit of World War 1 vehicles, weaponry and uniforms. Lots of bizarre mannequins, which tended to undercut the seriousness of war. Not sure if a David Bowie song running through my head was appropriate for the event, but whatcha gonna do?

The Memorial and museum itself was gorgeous in its simplicity and severity, and the views of all eras of downtown architecture was breathtaking.
See a slideshow of WW1 Memorial photos.

Now we observe a moment of silence for the triumphant BBQ of Kansas City, MO. Fred Flinstone would have turned this side of prime beef into a car.
See a slide show of miscellaneous KC photos.

And now, the meat in a B.E.L.T. sandwich – the mid-century modern ranch homes.  Courtesy of 2 driving maps from KCModern, you can see highlights and bonus tracks of an endless supply of suburban ranch homes in the Overland Park/Prairie Village/Mission Hills sections (and beyond) of Kansas City, Kansas.
See slideshow #1 of KC MCM.

KC loves it some cedar shingles; natural, stained, painted – doesn’t matter as long as it cedar. This also marks the first time I liked so much cedar. Guess context is important. That observed, I have very few photos of cedar-sided homes, so my prejudices were in effect. My problem, not theirs.
See slideshow #2 of KC MCM.

We barely touched the tip of how much mid-century modern housing stock they have, most of it lovingly and appropriately preserved (from the outside). There were new homes that resulted from teardown, but it was nowhere near as prevalent of a condition as in St. Louis County, and the new homes inserted are of a more appropriate scale. Meaning, there must be some type of restrictions in place as to what can be built; another lesson for St. Louis to contemplate.
See slide show #3 of KC MCM.

I desperately need a new garage, so observing detached garages is a constant pastime. THIS is the one I want. Along with the slanted roof and transom glass, it’s dark blue!

KC KS residential architects and builders had an artful touch with attached garages, too. The overhead doors play an important part in the balance and geometry of the front facades. Oh, how I miss that lost art.
See slide show #4 of KC MCM.

There are plenty of noteworthy public, commercial and church mid-century modern buildings sprinkled throughout these neighborhoods (like this public works building adjacent to Porter Park). In a future post, I’ll show a gorgeously bizarre temple that was nearby. Plus, there’s the Kaufman Performing Art Center by Moshe Safdie in downtown KC MO, plus a perfectly preserved Phillips 66 batwing to share with you.

Until then, lets end the Kansas City art & architecture tour with the final slideshow of KC MCM.