Site: St. Louis, MO, United States
Status: Conceptual Design
Client: Novack Construction and Development
St. Louis was the fourth largest US city at the turn of the century and is currently ranked fifty-second in US city populations according to the US Census Bureau. In addition to general population loss, there was a steady vacating of the dense urban fabric in preference for suburban life. This loss of activity and density included the cultural institution of St. Louis, Grand Center, previously known as the theater district. There are plans to revive this area to an active center. The new construction of the Pulitzer Foundation and Contemporary Art Museum supported this process in 2001 contributing to the vitality of the remaining performance and art institutions.
We were asked to design a mixed-use media building on an irregular site adjacent to these institutions, mixed income neighborhoods and the St. Louis University edge. The program for this building was thought of in five parts. First, we address media content with a lab and copyright office that would govern public domain of the projection surfaces at the ground level. A café component encourages daily participation from nearby student, tourist and business venues. On the second level, three viewing rooms of various sizes project outward from the triangular site. A ramp connects the ground and second level to pull the street activity into these public viewing rooms. At the top of the structure, five residential units overlook the city and media screen. One of the units would house an artist in residence sponsored by rotating University interests. The fifth essential program element is the media screens. The media screens exist as a public venue. The arcade is composed of self-supporting enclosures of solar cell technology fused with a transparent surface. The media screens are constructed such that the image ‘bends’ from exterior surface to an interior, enclosing condition. Light and shadow are crucial to the materiality of the space in the combination of light passing as if from a ceiling above in the sky, and light emanating from a digital fabrication. The nature of the screen and its projected color invades any concreteness.
We wanted the Media Arcade project to provide multiple readings within and about its perimeter. For this reason, the street and sidewalk inflate such that the projection experience surrounds the individual from the ground level with projections on the belly of surfaces above, to the second level with projections on all sides. The ramp then passes over the adjacent street to the neighboring lot of planned condominiums. The typical floor slab construction is rejected for interlocking volumes and continuous space. As a design strategy, we thought of the building occupying the totality of the small triangular site. The building is a privately funded solid that carves volumes of public space for interfacing. The wish for the architecture is one of balance between the lightness of its enclosure and the prevalence of its street and public domain. The roof-scape and streetscape distinguish between private and public, but their consistency lies in their surface and the apertures that break between to give glimpses of the city skyline and streams of light. The activation of the space depends on a multivalent leisure that breaks down the gates separating neighborhoods.