The CityArchRiver Project
Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch, completed in 1965, is an architectural and engineering marvel. But for decades, it failed to spark growth in the city of St. Louis. In their early design visions, Saarinen and landscape architect Dan Kiley proposed a new park with grand walks and stairs that afforded important connections for visitors. However, a highway was constructed before the design was realized, and it separated the 91-acre site from what remained of downtown. Visitors arriving by car drove directly into a 1,600-space garage, then headed to the Arch without exploring the larger park, the city, or its riverfront.
In 2009, MVVA—leading a large team of consultants—won a competition to correct these conditions. The project took eight years to complete and cost $380 million. Working with the Gateway Arch Foundation, the National Park Service, Missouri DOT, Great Rivers Greenway, and several other government and community stakeholders, the team of planners, engineers, and technical specialists defined and executed a project that would transform the National Park into a landscape that is both beautiful and practical, reconnected to both downtown St. Louis and the city’s Mississippi riverfront.
Scores of intrusive elements were removed from the property, and thousands of linear feet of new paths were created, all exceeding accessibility standards. Yet with all the improvements, Kiley’s basic scheme remains intact. Some 900 ash trees, which were threatened by an invasive pest, were replaced with more durable London plane trees to realize Kiley’s vision for columnar-form processional allées.
There are new links to Mississippi River Greenway networks and improved connections to the regional light rail system. The parking garage that dominated the north half of the site was demolished and replaced by a lawn bowl used for performances, an Explorer’s Garden of plants that Lewis and Clark encountered on their travels, a gently sloping bike path to the riverfront, and other new facilities that highlight the park’s unique history.
Resilience and sustainability were key drivers for the design. A soils improvement program borrows radish and rye cover crop techniques from Midwestern agricultural science and incorporates compost tea applications to restore soil biology. Serpentine ponds designed by Kiley were re-engineered to improve water quality, discourage green algae growth, and capture stormwater for reuse on-site. Tree, shrub, perennial, and grass species found across the natural landscapes of the region were also introduced to the park’s garden spaces.
MVVA’s work at the Gateway Arch National Park has catalyzed a wave of new investment in downtown St. Louis—a museum, commercial and retail buildings, and a multilevel residential development have all since been constructed within a few blocks. Most tellingly, 2.1 million annual visitors to the Arch now stay in the city an average of half a day longer than they did before the project was completed.
The largest new design feature is the 280-foot-wide land bridge built across the interstate, extending a grand central axis from downtown to a new entry for the Museum of Westward Expansion by Cooper Robertson and James Carpenter Design Associates.
The sunken limestone plaza is set in a bank of grasses and bordered by paths that start the fully accessible decent to the underground museum.