More on Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Winning the Arch Design Competition and What’s Next

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The story that first broke here on urbanSTL.com has now been confirmed by the organizers of the Framing a Modern Masterpiece Arch grounds design competition. The team led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates have won the competition and will now enter the planning phase of design. This Friday's event will now serve as the formal introduction of MVVA and a question and answer session.

It's appropriate and necessary to give immense credit to the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation. They and they alone have made this competition and the coming improvements possible. As the organizing body of the design competition, the Foundation has (and will continue to) organize the dozens of agencies involved, as well as the City of St. Louis, Congressional delegations from both Missouri and Illinois and Federal interests. It's nearly impossible to overstate the complexity of the challenge, or to understate the accomplishments of the Foundation. They have stepped into a challenge that many have wholeheartedly attempted and ultimately failed to solve. In that respect, those interested in the betterment of St. Louis and specifically the Arch grounds should support and celebrate not only what's to come, but what has already been accomplished.

The design proposal submitted by MVVA has failed to capture the admiration of those who visit this site. In fact, with 1,000 votes counted, MVVA garnered just 23 votes, or 2.3% to finish fifth of the five finalists. My review of the MVVA proposal ended on a down note, the proposal simply didn't come across as exciting as several others. However, the competition wasn't designed to pick the most exciting design and I think that those who simply went with their gut reaction, or were hoping for more than the competition sought, are now disappointed.

And yet looking at the design proposal and narrative, and watching the presentation to the jury, it is clear that the MVVA best explained not only what they wanted to do, but how they were going to do it and why they didn't propose something else. As I've noted before, this is best illustrated on the east side as they chose to leave the polluted ground alone, placed tree-top elevated walkways over a reclaimed and inundated swamp. Moving contaminated soil can take years and millions of dollars. Whether or not there was a more exciting proposal for the east side, the MVVA design was the most likely to succeed.

The same holds true for the challenge of addressing the current I-70 and Memorial Drive. The MVVA proposal leaves the current configuration in place, except for eliminating turns from northbound Memorial to Market and Chestnut and vice-versa. This creates a better pedestrian realm while impacting traffic patterns little. To make the point of offering a simplified approach, MVVA smartly made use of the National Park Service Memorial Drive Closure Traffic Study by firm AECOM completed several years ago.

The lid covering the depressed lanes of I-70 between Market and Chestnut (and extended some feet to the north and south) is the least obtrusive of any design. As a result, this may prove to be the best design to accommodate the future removal of I-70 from the Poplar Street Bridge to the new I-70 Bridge current under construction.

A late press release by the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation offered a view of the tight timeline moving forward. The next 90 days will see MVVA and the competition sponsors, the City of St. Louis, the NPS and others to solidify a design and fundraising plan, as well set expectations for October 2015. This should be a fascinating process to follow.

The most interesting news regards the east riverfront, an area where many had hoped to see greater changes. Dr. Vaughn Vandegrift, Chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, a member of the competition governing group is quote as saying, “Our discussions regarding Illinois intensified and evolved even after the competition was launched. There are opportunities for the Illinois riverbank area now that didn’t exist when we gave instructions to the teams. We will work closely with the MVVA Team to evaluate what they have proposed and expand from there.”

With any luck, this is the type of news we will hear more and more of in the coming months and years. The genius of this competition is that it is the best opportunity to move the otherwise immovable. Opportunities that simply did not exist in the past may not present themselves. Let's hope this is true, as many of us dream of continued process of revitalization beyond 2015.

Click here to read the full review of the MVVA proposal on urbanSTL.

News coverage of the MVVA winning announcement:
KSDK video
St. Louis Beacon
St. Louis Business Journal
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Chicago Tribune
St. Louis Public Radio

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