St. Louis Citygarden, a 2.9-acre Sculpture Park, Fosters Social Interaction Downtown

At the heart of St. Louis, Citygarden, a new 2.9-acre sculpture park designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects and studio|durham architects, is revitalizing a formerly run-down part of downtown St. Louis through landscape and public sculpture. The park, a mix of urban park, urban garden, and sculpture garden, was designed to foster interaction. It seems to have succeeded: Citygarden has drawn thousands since its opening in July 2009, bringing economic benefits to the city as well.

According to Metropolis magazine, the now rich, multi-faceted park features a range of modern and contemporary master sculptors: Tom Claassen, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jim Dine, Keith Haring, Férnand Leger, Aristide Maillol, Julian Opie, Martin Puryear, Tony Smith, Jack Youngerman, and others. The public art is a key draw and helps spur social interaction. Paul Wagman, a spokesman for the Gateway Foundation, the local foundation that drafted the initial master plan and co-funded the development of the park, said: “You see little kids, elderly people, arty people, frumpy people. People look happy. They’re interacting with each other, often in spontaneous ways.”

The design process was collaborative. “NBWLA worked with the Missouri Botanical Garden on plant selection and with the Gateway Foundation on the subtle art of sculpture siting. At one point, a large model of the park was built, and the team moved sculpture replicas around like chess pieces, assessing each location based on the artwork, the landscape around it, and how it fit into the sequence of forms.”  To further facilitate deeper interaction with the sculptures, ArchNewsNow, in a June 2009 review of the park, noted that there are no “Do-Not-Touch” signs.

ArchNewsNow said that St. Louis’s natural features, “its great rivers,” inspired the landscape plan designed by Virginia-based Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. “The garden is divided into three tiers, or bands, running east and west. The northern ‘upland’ band corresponds to the high ground near a river – the bluff. The middle band denotes low ground – the floodplain. The southern band represents a cultivated river terrace.” Metropolis added that the designers “took advantage of the terrain by increasing the elevation in some spots to ten feet,” creating additional vantage points for visitors to view the art and cityscape.

The park financing was also innovative. The Gateway Foundation, created by the late Aaron and Teresa Fischer, and now directed by their son, Peter, formed a cooperative agreement with the city. The foundation would do the planning and direct the design and development of the urban park, while the city would provide the land. In total, the project cost some $25-30 million.

The city’s Deputy Mayor of Development, Barbara Geisman, told ArchNewsNow that the Gateway Foundation played a key role in making Citygarden happen. “The Gateway Foundation’s willingness to invest so heavily in Citygarden, coupled with its funding of a now-completed master plan for the entire St. Louis Mall, have stirred ‘optimism that the Mall can be a beautiful space and an economic generator.'”

Read the Metropolis and ArchNewsNow articles and see photos.

Image credit: Steve Hall/Hedrich Blessing, Metropolis Magazine

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