Eight Central Corridor Infill Projects and the Design of a New St. Louis

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There’s a boom underway in the central corridor of the City of St. Louis. From a $1B medical center expansion, new Mercedes dealership, and retail to the coming IKEA, the area is hot. The eight residential and mixed-use projects below have either recently been completed, are under construction, or have been proposed in the central corridor. While virtually nothing new was built for years, the most recent projects announced have be lauded by developers and politicians, and generally welcomed by all as positive signs of growth for a city long in decline. As additional projects have been proposed, more and more people are asking if St. Louis is stuck in a rut of faux historic, faux brick architecture. Every story of a new project on nextSTL seems to lead to this discussion.

  1. The Standard – 164 units (Forest Park Avenue at Vandeventer), proposed
  2. Cortona at Forest Park – 278 units (The Highlands), near completion
  3. 4643 Lindell Boulevard – 217 units (Lindell at Euclid), proposed
  4. West End City – 88 units (245 Union), under construction
  5. Aventura at Forest Park – 150 units (The Grove), completed
  6. West Pine Lofts – 260 units (Sarah at West Pine), proposed
  7. 3949 Lindell – 197 units (between Sarah and Vandeventer), completed
  8. City Walk/Whole Foods – 177 units (Euclid at West Pine), under construction

With any luck, the aesthetic bar bottomed out with Aventura, a project that prompted myself and others to organize an event titled “Building Better Infill” to explore why something like that is built, and how to interpret the design of infill projects. More than 150 people attended that event. St. Louis certainly has an aesthetic, book-ended by warehouses such as the former Ford Motor Company building, now West End Lofts, and the single-family brick home. However, new infill doesn’t seem to speak to either, or anything in between, particularly well.

So which is your favorite and least favorite project design above and why? Are the projects good for St. Louis, but missed opportunities? When will St. Louis see contemporary infill and what, if anything, stands in the way?

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  • maxywaxy

    Are these designs introduced into the context of the city because there’s flagging interest in suburban development (and suburban developers are shifting towards central corridor work)? Are they trying to attract a demographic that would otherwise have lived in the “suburbs” and have been happy with a “new” aesthetic? I know that St. Louis is a pretty conservative town but there are plenty of other mid-sized cities (Milwaukee and Minneapolis come to mind) that are able to put out new construction that’s contemporary and forward looking and yet still fits within the context of local surroundings.

    Is the aesthetic bar set so low in St. Louis because there’s a mentality that any infill is good infill?

    I’m neither in design nor in development so I’m trying to better understand these lapses in aesthetics. For what it’s worth, even though I dislike the overall development in the Highlands I think the facade of the Cortana is at least a step in the right direction even if the overall design is derivative of a lot of stuff being built on the west coast 8-10 years ago….

    • Big Earl

      Parking is much more expensive then you may think. And every buck spent on meeting parking requirements is certain to come off the things like exterior design. The real issue is the philosophy among developers in this market… Conservative is an appropriate word. Development will always be a game of return on investment and that’s is fine, that’s is capitalism. What we need is equity to clash with passion for the city of St. Louis and the acceptance of a 5-10% rate of return drop in order to build something innovative. St. Louis’s problem is a lack of variety in development philosophies…. But in the mean time every dollar invested is a step in the right direction.. Nothin attracts money like money. These dudes just don’t realize the potential this city has.

      • rgbose

        Worth noting that most of these places exceed the parking minimum of one per dwelling unit. So the problem is in developers’ and financiers’ heads.

        • matimal

          It will take an actual example of a successful project without structured parking to change financial minds. Any prospects of such a project?

          • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

            If only I had one the lottery on Wednesday…

            “Hey, Board of Aldermen. I’m going to build this building, but with a .25 to 1 parking ratio. If you don’t like it, well, I guess I’ll build across the river or something. Or blow it all on a robot butler. Like Rocky’s. Where was I — oh yes, a new building. Point-25 to one ratio and those who want it will pay more for it, because an automobile — or a place to store it — is NOT an unalienable right.”

  • Thomas R Shrout Jr

    4545 Lindell is a nice contemporary infill. Also there is a smattering of single family residential infill that is contemporary and works great with its neighboring buildings.

  • rgbose

    The only one I would have put my foot down on is Aventura. It reminds me of the apt I lived in Laural, MD while working out there. It sucked the soul out of you.

  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

    1) Acceptable.
    2) Very nice.
    3) First design was best. NIMBY’d down to “okay”.
    4) Yep.
    5) Gross.
    6) Stellar!
    7) Good-ish.
    8) Pretty nice. Clocktower’d.

    All in all, the footprint is more important to me than the form. Glad to see (in most cases) a street-level integration and respect for “the City.” The obscenely high parking-ratio minimums are damnable, but until St. Louis takes a hard line against car culture, sadly we’re stuck with them.

    For form, I think the community should have a say, but not necessarily the final one. A form-based code (or codes) that says what developer’s can’t do (re: siding, setbacks, parking access/visibility, etc.) may be more effective than a code dictating what they can.

  • Chrispy

    Vomit… on all of them.

  • John

    Funny, even before I got to your question I thought Aventura was easily the worst. I don’t know how that got approved or why anyone even proposed it (other than they already paid for the plans and used them 50 times somewhere else).

  • STLgasm

    Few cities can hold a candle to St. Louis’ historic architecture, but I have to say, almost every other peer city has us beat in terms of new construction. Cleveland and Milwaukee are two cities in particular that have produced some truly inspiring multi-family architecture in recent years, and neither one of those cities would be considered cutting edge or booming by any measure. It just shows how far behind St. Louis is compared to most other cities in this regard. I feel like our developers don’t even bother to visit other cities to see what contemporary architecture actually looks like. I will try to find some pics and post them.

  • STLgasm

    Cleveland gets it.

    • samizdat

      Wow…just, wow! Not a bad one in the bunch. #3 is particularly visually arresting.

      And yet, STL produces some of the most mediocre developments I’ve been witness to, including all 8 of those listed here. (The Aventura…ugh. Roddy should have been slapped for allowing that wretched suburban monstrosity to go through).

      • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

        I know these are rehabs (as opposed to new builds), but the set of lofts/commercial at Jefferson/Washington continues to stand out for me as one of our best examples of a smart, vibrant building without all the unnecessary cladding and adornments you see in the “new modern.”

        They stand out visually, but not like a sore thumb. A simple contrasting paint scheme makes these look 80 times better than any of the brick-n-beige devs listed in this article.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Yes. In fact the bigger story in STL is likely that rehabs and loft conversions are soaking up the new residential and leaving less demand/need for interesting new infill. STL has more great loft conversions than Cleveland, or Milwaukee, or Minneapolis, and whatever other city people can cite has having cool new infill.

        • samizdat

          Not usually a fan of painting brick, but the developers have done a good job of making these buildings into one stylistically cohesive block face, with the added bonus of restoring the glorious expanse of shiny yellow terra cotta on the facade of the largest building.

          In a way, I find it rather sad that this City doesn’t embrace designs which eschew the usual status quo, parts-bin architecture so evident amongst the buildings listed here.

          (I’m not saying a word about that hip roof on the Standard *it belongs on a suburban old folks home*)

    • Adam

      first and third are amazing. second reminds me of the highlands and last reminds me of clayton.

  • Alex Ihnen

    One thing I realized when looking back over these images is that St. Louis historic architecture doesn’t vary greatly – at least the larger apartment buildings of any given decade span. So is the issue simply that we don’t build them like we used to? Materials are most expensive, labor is more expensive, etc.? There are better examples locally of course. Someone mentioned 4545 Lindell, there’s also the Park East Tower, Hi-Pointe condos, Maryland Walk…There’s a lot of poor architecture elsewhere, but perhaps one more adventurous project would put STL on the map and make for a different vibe. The Aventura site would have been perfect. :(

    • rgbose

      The WUSTL Loop project looks pretty good.

      • rgbose

        From yesterday

        • STLgasm

          Agreed! I love the Loop development. That is a major step in the right direction. Shouldn’t this be added to the thread? It’s the central corridor, after all.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Sorta and yeah, coulda been. It’s (mostly) in the County and really a part of the Loop – I (at least) think of it as a different market than the “central corridor”. That, and it’s exclusively student housing and built by WU – a couple factors that make it a different type of project.

  • Adam

    *choking/dying noises*

    please… no… more… brown… can’t… take… any… more… brown…

    *choking/dying noises*

  • Framer

    Like Kevin says, I think the way the structure relates to the streetscape is more important than the particular style. In Europe, you can put one of Frank Gehry’s crazy creations right next to an elegant beaux arts masterpiece, and it works because massing, building lines, and materials all relate.

    It seems to me that St. Louis is starting to get it. Notice how most of the above examples are at least built out to the sidewalk, and make some attempt to interact with pedestrians. Now we just need some developer with balls to really push the design envelope.

  • mc

    City Walk/Whole Foods building is definitely the best. BRICK is the CITY’S SOUL! Always remember this.

  • moe

    My worse pick: #5 Aventura….That looks like a Chesterfield reject or Kirkwood transplant and stands in stark contrast to it’s immediate neighbors. Then again, it could quite possibly be Chesterfield’s finest. It’s painful.
    My best pick: I would go with #7…3848 Lindell, but I can’t. That side driveway is a let-down. I really like the street side though….wide sidewalk, planters, trees, and storefront with breaks. But I have to go with #3. I like the height, the top finish, and the street level façade and street-scape. But the storefronts are still too repetitive and boring. Take the storefronts from #7 and put on to #3 and it’s a winner.
    I really think people need to look at projects like these and dismiss the cookie-cutter programed trees, cars, and pedestrians. That’s eye candy for, in a perfect year…what? 3 weeks out of the year here in St. Louis. People should start looking at these projects the way they would look in the middle of a cold, gray, winter day. If a project can appeal to a person on such a day, it can only look and, more importantly, be a better part of the neighborhood the other 49 weeks of the year.

  • Tom of the Missouri

    Curious minds want to know. How did the Ikea project ever get approved without red brick, a beige stucco top floor and a little fake cornice? What will outsiders think of us when they drive by on highway 40 and see that ugly blue monstrosity with its yellow signage? St. Louis design approval Nazis were really sleeping on that one. How about the Arch repair project? I think of what a missed opportunity to not change that ugly stainless steel to red brick with a beige top to more accurately reflect the original landing buildings it replaced. Who does that crazy Eero Saarinen dude think he was, anyway pushing that unpainted beer can look on us? Was he making fun of our Bud cans or was he pushing for the national croquet museum? We could at least have changed it to more closely resemble the more appropriate texture of the Serra sculpture by the Civil Courts building so it would have reflected our “rust belt” status of on old depopulating mid western city. Good grief, when are our design approval folks ever going to stop being so creative and get back to our only true style which was that of our buildings that existed during our only true great period – the 1904 worlds fair era of red brick before the era of the elevator and high rise balconies.

    • Adam

      or–and i know this is a shocker–we could build new things in both traditional AND modern styles. the arch is beautiful, no doubt. but unlike most of this new construction 1) it’s a monument, 2) it’s built like a brick shit house (or a SS one as the case may be) and 3) it was EXPENSIVE. if it were built today the bottom half would be covered in aluminum flashing and the top half in vinyl siding. i REALLY don’t understand this notion that classic architectural forms somehow become unattractive because, you know, new stuff! yes, it’s more difficult to produce classic forms with new materials but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

      • mc

        AMEN Adam!

  • http://www.UrbanCincy.com/ Randy A. Simes

    I really dislike pitched roofs in urban settings…especially when they just appear to be cheap adaptions of standard suburban apartment complexes.

  • Presbyterian

    Best new residential infill is Roberts Tower, or whatever they’re renaming it. Worst is Aventura. These other seven fall into the category of Pfiu — perfectly-fine-if-uninspiring — infill.

  • dempster holland

    What about accepting the possibility that all buildings are interesting in their
    own way and that St Louis was built in the first place by a lot of individual
    decisions by a lot of individuals, some of whom did things the normal way,
    some did them differently, some pleased some folks, others pleased other
    folks. And the result was the diverse, interesting city we had and are now
    (hopefully) in the process of building a anew..

    • Adam

      unfortunately buildings can be “interesting” while not being attractive or durable.

      • dempster holland

        For attractiveness, I think the ABC apartments on Kingshighway
        just north of Laclede are perhaps the best in town

  • mc

    St. Louis has a great architectural legacy. We must preserve it as much as possible. I’m happy about the renovations of buildings and churches like the old Missouri Theatre in Mid-town or St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church in South City and I’m also happy about the renovations of homes like those in Lafayette square and Old North, etc. I think we should do everything it takes to preserve these beautiful pieces of our legacy.

    I do not think that we are stuck in a rut of faux historic architecture. I think it’s a good think to complement our architectural legacy. I think number 8 and a couple others are decent examples and I think (along with everyone else that number 5 is terrible.

    At the same time, I think tasteful post-modern architecture in the downtown area would be welcomed. Roberts Tower looks very good and the plaza below is tastefully done. City garden is also an incredible example of what we can do with public spaces.

    Here’s a thought, I really do think that in Chouteau’s landing we could reconstruct some of the original homes of Chouteau and the original French founders of St. Louis. It would be adjacent to arch grounds and it could be like Vermillionville in Lafayette, Louisiana. I think it could be a very cool development.

    • jeanette

      I love that idea for Chouteau’s landing. I’ve been to Vermillionville and it was amazing. Lots of fun things to do for all ages.

      http://www.vermilionville.org/vermilionville/index.html

      I definitely think we could do that in St. Louis. It could easily connect to the arch grouds, the river, Our Lady of Victories Church, and the pubs on South Broadway. It could simply be a few blocks of brick roads old Creole French Style homes and buildings to showcase what the original settlement looked like. There could be some restaurants little shos there. They could sell unique selections of Cajun, Creole, and Native American arts and crats, as well as literature and music CDs. It could be a living history museum.

      Many people have forgotten about St. Louis’ great early history from about 1764-1830s. I’d suggest that you contact Les Amis and Alliance Francaise about it. Unfortunately, though, you will have opposition. There are people of influence that will do anything to make people forget about St. Louis’ un-American early history. Catholics had to fight to keep the Old Cathedral when the arch was built. Why do I bring that up? Your idea for Chouteau’s landing isn’t “Catholic” but it is a historical project that gives a nod to the early French settlers who were indeed Catholic and very un-American just like original settlers in New Orleans. I’m all for your idea but watch your step. There are people who would not want this. Also people who are not into the whole cultural thing and more into the extreme capitalist American mentality of let’s make as much money as possible and forget everyone else.

    • jeanette

      I’ve looked at the Vermillionville mission statement and have adapted it to your idea of Chouteau’s landing:

      “Chouteau’s landing is a living history museum whose purpose is to preserve and interpret authentic elements of folklife cultures of the early St. Louis settlers between 1764 and 1830. The celebration of these cultures includes language;, music and dance; the performance of traditional arts and artifacts, and landscaping; historic costuming; beliefs and customs; cuisine; and traditional holidays and festivals. Chouteau’s landing seeks to enlighten visitors and youth about the history and culture of the first French settlers of St. Louis and to help all St. Louisians of this area gain a better understanding and appreciation of their own heritage in this multi-ethnic region.”

  • John R

    While not spectacular, the Cortona is pretty decent. And its now taking move-ins!

  • John R

    Looks like we’ll see the design for project #9 before long as Cortex has an rfp out for developing the Silo Lofts — the mixed-use site that will be adjacent to IKEA on FPP. May 1 deadline, according to Tim Bryant.
    The good news for the above 8 are that all of them are moving forward as well.