Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hidden Treasures of St. Louis

The cobblestone pavement of 16th St. south of Clark St. has probably been there since 1904.

So why do we use asphalt again?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

City Garden or Gateway One Garden?

City Garden and Gateway One: illegitimate children of Corporate Interests and Incompetent Urban Design.

A horrifying thought occurred to me while walking past the construction site of City Garden the other day: they designed it to compliment one of the biggest urban design mistakes in St. Louis.

City Garden's tank barricades sweep gracefully into the stairs of Gateway One's half-a-mall and hides itself from Chestnut Street.

The color of the stone resembles the color of the stone panels of Gateway One, and the curving walls on the north half of the block take up a similar footprint to the high-rise office park. The half-a-mall plan that cost us the Buder and Title Guarantee Buildings has come back to bite us on the ass, and somebody conned Shaw's Garden [otherwise known as Missouri Botanical Garden] into sponsoring it. It wasn't bad enough to hem 'Twain' into a bumpy park, the corporate sugar daddies had to also use it to enhance their most heinous act upon the city's central green space.

'Hello, AT&T employees, welcome to City Garden.' The view from the main entrance of the AT&T tower.

City Garden, then, is no more than a ploy by the owners of the city-killer glass boxes on the mall to give their properties 'curb appeal' and drain taxpayers' resources. It is specifically designed, like the 'mall' at Gateway One, to discourage public use. Its massive walls and berms obscure street views and sever the space from the little bit of retail space that could serve it. Foot traffic even during rush hour is minimal, with only the weary poor who have to park south of downtown braving the abysmal streetscape of the corporate wilderness.

City Garden genuflecting to its daddy, with the AT&T complex standing smugly and lifelessly beyond. Notice the lack of pedestrian activity in an area densely packed with office workers.

This photo was taken at lunch time on a Friday. No surprise here--there's absolutely nothing to do but smoke a cigarette.

AT&T data center retail space. How do you get in?

There's actually a snack shop in there. The Metrolink station and sheer perseverance are the only explanations for its continued existence.

In my walk from 4th to 12th on Market Street each morning, there is no retail opportunity to buy a paper or a cup of coffee. I walk it for the exercise since there is absolutely no other reason for anyone to be there except to get to and from work. Sales tax dollars by the thousands walk out of downtown and land in suburban strip malls, all because of arrogant corporate looters who took financial incentives to build their monolithic slabs of cubicles and conference rooms, and gave nothing in return for the favor.

Darth Vader dares you to walk here.

City Garden is a waste of resources and worse, a waste of an urban design opportunity to create dynamic space in the midst of a dead district.

AT&T's skywalks protect its employees from the dangers of dead sidewalks that its buildings killed.

I.M. Pei should have known better. The General American Building is a dead zone, and an uncomfortable hovering mass to walk under.

Meanwhile, the 'Darth Vader' building is set above the sidewalk as if the mere pedestrian is unworthy of the glory of modern banking and unwelcome in an urban center.

Harry Weese's 1010 Market Building is a little better. Its hovering mass almost suggests a canopy [and is welcome respite on a rainy day], but its blank wall implies that human presence, evidenced by the bus stop, was an afterthought.
It does offer retail space, tho set well back from the street. Only a Subway shop has managed to survive in its two lease spaces, even though channel 5 news draws potential customers to its 'Window on St. Louis' in 'Television Plah-zuh'.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for Octoboer 8, AT5

Again. I'm beginning to think there's a message here... Pents and an Emperor--hmmmmm.

He's the master of physical reality; I'm a procrastinator. But, last nite when I pulled this card, I had just finished an evening of doing exactly what I wanted: sitting on my ass playing with pretty pictures. So, this is my first Emperor of Pentacles diary entry. We'll see if a pattern emerges.

If I'm obstinant enough, eventually, the cards will fly out of my hands and fall on the floor spelling out the message 'clean up this frakking mess!'. If so, I'll take a pic and share, or laminate those bastards where they lie and sell them on ebay.

Pagan Art in City Hall

City Hall maintenance crews recently finished the process of converting the lighting in the public areas to fluorescent; the last bulbs to change over were the floods on the rotunda frescoes. I thought the new lights were too harsh from my fourth-floor vantage point, and they are. But, from below, they actually work well. Here is a study of the Canoe Indian:

4th Floor

3rd Floor

2nd Floor

Note that even the perspective is better from below, so from the optimal viewing angle at the marble balusters on the Mayor's level, the glare from the lights is far less overwhelming.

I never quite understood how this painting fit into the scheme of luscious Art Nouveau allegories in the rotunda, where the gods and goddesses of land and labor embellish the spandrels.

The advantage of Paganism is that it is the religion of the world rather than a far-away paradise; the very act of portraying cultural ideals is the creation of gods and goddesses. Here are some of the gods and goddesses of St. Louis, Missouri:

Here's the Goddess of Cotton magically spinning thread from bolls and Pevelia, the Goddess of Dairy feeding a calf from her lap, flanking Canoe Indian.

It's kinda sexual if your mind goes that way [mine does, especially with a nekkid indian in the middle].

Here, the Father of the Waters pours forth the Mississippi from a jar [this handsome specimen is directly opposite Canoe Indian; coincidence?].

My favorite is the Forest Goddess, a tour de force of Art Nouveau style, but the light was dis- advantageous, so second place goes to Wheat Goddess with poppies at her feet.

Peace Goddess is the only other Native American allowed in the Rotunda; I didn't realize what she was until I zoomed in on the photo. She may become my new favorite just for the ribbons of smoke Nouveau.

Not pictured here are Peabodia, the Goddess of Coal, Shawa, the Goddess of Fruits, and the Goddess of Corn, but I'll spare your scrolling finger. Peabodia is appropriately stout.

The hearing rooms must be later than the rotunda; their paintings are distinctly more neoclassical. The aldermanic chamber sports portraits of the great men of Missouri as well as elaborate allegorical scenes of the virtues of Western Civilization. This perplexing collection includes allegories of Art, Pasturing, Learning, Smithcraft, and a scene depicting a no-doubt-soon-to-be-broken treaty between pale face and the original inhabitants of the land.

The chandelier, with the Goddesses of Fine Arts and Shepherdesses in their glories, while Jefferson peers down from the ceiling and Mssrs Labeaume and Pratte watch the horror of civic politics.

[Is it just me, or is mauve really and unfortunate color for civic interiors?]

The alermanic clock no doubt ticks to the anvil beats of Granitus, the God of the St. Louisian forge. I think he knew Henry Shaw...

If you've lasted this long, you might want to give your scrolling finger a cigarette break in which to ponder the meaning of the upside-down Queen of Pentacles...

The Kennedy Hearing room is my favorite; Wisdom, Justice, and Valor. Plus torchieres to die for and the gayest rear wall in the history of architecture.

Wisdom in his spartan, but gilded, cell.

For Goddess and Country: Justice prevails formidably at the center of the hall.

Valor. Is this dude Antinous or what?

Nice scrolls.

The back wall; is it a shrine to the gods above, or is it there just to be fabulous?

The church lady might approve of these bulbous orbs.

Can you say, 'Oh, Daddy!'?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for October 7, AT5

Queen of Pentacles, Rev.
Why do the pents hate me? Why?
Yesterday, they say I'm being cautious, today, they say I'm being stingy.

Ach du liebe!

Pentacles represent Earth, blah blah blah.
Queens represent competence; in a feminine suit it is from a sense of nurturing.

The Queen of Pentacles can be thought of one who cares too much for others. Reversed, it would be that I don't think enough of others; which is true, but I'm an aspie, I don't know what they're thinking most of the time, so I lie back and see where things go. Let's just call this the aspie card, then, and go have a cigarette.

The Board of Adjustment Wounds Carondelet

While reviewing plans for the former Coca-Cola Syrup plant on Michigan Ave, the city's ever so introspective Board of Adjustment voted to approve the project with the condition that nine planned townhouses across the street be deleted in favor of a parking lot.

A frakking parking lot!!!

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard it. In its zeal to enforce its suburban-influenced parking standards, this board has inflicted a permanent wound on what could have become a pleasant, walkable neighborhood. Poised to take advantage of the next economic upswing, Carondelet was a hotbed of rehab and new development, much of which is now on hold, but some of which is proceeding. The Board of Adjustment had an opportunity to do the sensible thing and allow the construction of a cohesive urban streetscape. Instead, it decided to enforce a lethal gap in a neighborhood that was already walking a delicate line between pass or fail. The project already had accommodation for parking, but more importantly, it had a developer committed to creating a neighborhood in Carondelet instead of another vapid wasteland of cracker boxes floating in an asphalt sea and houses hidden neatly away from the services and traffic they need to be safe and productive.

The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The project will consist of 78 residential units and ground-floor commercial space, including a bowling alley and microbrewery. 121 parking spaces appear on the preliminary plans. With one per dwelling unit, that leaves 43 spaces for the commercial tenants, plus street parking. Perhaps they should also pave the park across Michigan, the long-term effect on the neighborhood wouldn't be any worse.
The rear yard of the plant, with room for parking in addition to indoor parking indicated on the plans [photo credit]

So, as the mighty automobile continues its choke hold on a diverse historic community, slick robber-developers will have the ammunition they need to justify more strip malls and wider roads, perpetuating the cycle we have seen in the inner suburbs of strip mall - traffic - road widening - more traffic - dead strip malls - big box retail. Loughborough Commons seems to be the city's picture of paradise.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tarot Card of the Day for October 6, AT5

Pentacles represent Earth; abundance, stability, faith.
Knights represent inexperience; in a feminine suit it is from reluctance.

So, this card can mean financial stagnation. This makes sense, since I am growing more and more reluctant to spend into my savings, even tho I need to do repairs to the house. I suspect the card is saying that the situation is going to continue for the time being. I hope it's also saying, from the stability aspect, that the situation won't get worse. The card also rings true in faith, since I've been reading 'Atlas Shrugged' for about a month now, leaving my spiritual studies to languish; and I've been neglecting Cernunnos for a few weeks.

'Atlas Shrugged' is probably the reason I'm getting financially cautious. It tells of an economic collapse in a speculative America of the 1950's that is eerily similar to current news. It's creeping me out, while Ayn Rand's characters' victorian worldview is giving me the shivers.

Update on Powell Hall's Ashtray

As it turns out, the interesting piece of art next to Powell Hall is a student project. I arrived at Grand and Grandell Saturday evening to find that not only have they put up a large poster to explain the piece, but also a packet of fliers. As a student project, professional standards of craftsmanship don't apply. The important thing about the project is the students' ability to experience the interrelationships between ideas, form, light, and color; which the piece certainly allowed them to do.

The piece is part of The Community Light Project, funded by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Grand Center, and the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. It was created by Sebastian Hungerer and Rainer Kehres in collaboration with students from Cole Elementary, Loyala Academy, Cardinal Ritter Prep, and Metro High. The green masts visible in the photo in the original ash tray post are wind generators left from the previous installation, 'E-scaping the Grid' by Michael Oliveri. The generators illuminate a hexagonal grid of LED's that you can see in the background of my photo.

The Pulitzer also sponsored a fascinating Kehres-Hungerer work in the burnt out church at Spring and Grandell Square entitled 'Chorus'. The artists assembled lamps from the people of St. Louis and used them to create an illuminated roof for the gutted shell. I admire how they expressed the architectural form of the building while creating a compelling and colorful work of art; an ironic statement on the condition of America's inner cities, and hopefully an optimistic wish for their revitalization. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any biographical information on the artists; they seem to only have a web presence thru arts reviews and the Pulitzer Foundation.

Photo credit

Saturday at Powell Hall

Saturday night at Powell Hall was pretty darned good. They still had people out in the hallway making noise, and I found the side door wide open at intermission, but fortunately traffic was light that evening. I might just have to ask the house manager about this. I realize I'm in the cheap seats, but I still support this organization and I think my money is as good as the money of the swells in the loge even if I have less of it. But I can't imagine that the swells in the loge can't hear this noise, and that after opening night's spectacle of noise, management would allow even a feather to drop out in that hallway. I have nothing against housekeeping doing their job, I've been there. I know they want to get out of there, but they need to do it more quietly.

The noise in the hallway has been a perennial problem, and on Saturday, even the people around me were distracted by it, so I know it's not just my limited ability to focus on the music.

Speaking of the people in around me: picture a long-haired, bespectacled version of Britain's formidable Judi Dench having a lesbian affair with America's sweetheart Meg Ryan..... They were sitting right in front of me! They were so cute. Meg kept looking over at Judi with a sweet smile. I didn't know if I should say 'awwww, how cute' or slap them.

So, I guess I should say something about the music...

Well, it was spectacular. David Robertson led a pared-down St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a concert that featured the history of percussion. We heard Mozart's overture from 'The Abduction from the Seraglio', HK Gruber's 'Rough Music' with Colin Currie soloing on percussion, and Beethoven's 7th Symphony.

So, here's the advantage of the cheap seats: I had a straight-line view of the percussion section in a concert that featured percussion. I've always admired this section of the orchestra, and haven't ever found a reason to criticize them. To my amateur ears on Saturday, they performed their duty to perfection, especially in the Beethoven, where tympanist Richard Holmes gave the music a perfectly subtle foundation. Currie gave an energetic solo performance, but I know so little about percussion that I wouldn't know what to say about it.

'Rough Music' was really nothing of the sort. Saturday was its American premiere, and I think it will be heard often in the future. It was a mostly melodic study on percussion and orchestra, and a fascinating if not beautiful piece of contemporary music. Work like this gives me hope that someday, Architecture will emerge from its contemporary formless morass into a more sensible and sensitive style. Gruber meshes orchestra and percussion into a seamless whole in a traditionally-styled concerto. I especially liked the kettle drum segment of the non-melodic percussion, but liked the drum set segments more while he was demonstrating them in the pre-concert lecture; they didn't seem to mesh with the orchestra as well. The tuned percussion, such as the marimbas, didn't really come off as percussion so much as just another melodic instrument, and took the greater share of the concerto's percussion solo.

Overall, it was a piece that held my attention thru-out, which only otherwise happens for me in contemporary music with John Adams, whose 'Harmonielehre' remains my favorite work of modern music. [I highly recommend the Symphony's downloadable recording. I listened to it like five times in a row a few weeks ago, and will probably do it again when I log on at home to add pictures to this post.]

The Mozart was delivered in excellent style, but the Beethoven simply sparkled. At times, it seemed like Robertson was rushing the tempo, especially with his quick transitions between movements, but as the music unfolded, I couldn't say that his pacing was wrong, and in each movement, it revealed the greatness of this score. The orchestra wasn't quite ready for the first chord, but they immediately pulled themselves together and played perfectly. The horns were subtle, and the woodwinds were amazing. A particularly spectacular moment was the quietest moment in the score. Robertson, with a subtle gesture of his hand, took the strings down to such a low volume, you could hear the audience breathing. I can't imagine how they maintained such a perfect tone.

One thing that disturbed me until I figured out what was happening was that one violin seemed to be out of tune. I soon realized that due to an acoustic anomaly, i was hearing concert master David Halen's violin as if I were sitting in his lap [not that I would mind][hehehe]. As he shifted position, the sound of his violin meshed in and out with the rest of the instruments. With a lesser orchestra, this would have ruined the concert. With this orchestra and this concert master, it was sort of a treat.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

New Ex-urbanism

Last night, I had to go to continuing education to keep my license. Luckily, work pays my way into the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects' series, which are usually informative, and sometime relevant to my civil service job [no offense to the AIA, I'm not their target audience].

New Town: sterilized, insular, monolithic 'urbanism' [photo credit]

I was skeptical approaching last night's seminar on Serenbe, a planned rural community. After seeing the unfulfilled promise of St. Charles, Missouri's economically monolithic New Town and other 'new urbanist' developments that are essentially just mixed-use golf course developments, and realizing the low density of Serenbe from its website, I thought 'here we go with another watered-down planned town'.

Chattahoochie Hill Country [photo credit]

But the presentation surprised me. Serenbe is a component in an innovative countryside-preservation plan. The Chattahoochie Hill Country is a triangle of farmland somehow missed by Atlanta's cancerous sprawl. With Fulton County threatening to implement infrastructure 'improvements' that would open the area for more of the same automobile oriented development, property owners banded together to see if there was a way to accommodate the growing demand for development while preserving the character of their land.

The Chattohoochis Country Alliance devised a plan that would accommodate more residential units that standard sprawl models of development, yet preserve 80% of the undeveloped land. Using the philosophy of the New Urbanist movement, they instituted development restrictions that would result in denser clusters of development scattered thru-out the territory in a manner that respects the natural character of the area. Thru thoughtful planning and careful design, they are creating walkable and sustainable communities that don't rely on the massive infrastructure required to support sprawl.

Selborne [photo credit]

Serenbe uses natural water purification to handle its sewage and geothermal energy, among other environmentally friendly techniques. It is divided into three 'hamlets', each with a specific focus: Silborne, an artists' community that actually functions as a center of performing, fine, and culinary arts, with programs and facilities geared toward sustaining an artistic presence; Grange, a farming community where houses are tightly packed at the center of a string of small organic farms; and Mado, a holistic center of spas, holistic health services, and assisted living.

The community's plan recalls the grand days of the City Beautiful movement, but on a scale that makes it practical. Sweeping roads veer into tightly-knit communities and open up into long views across the community. The 'omega' shape of the hamlets focuses each cluster on a natural feature while respecting the contour of the land; and each hamlet offers trails and destinations to encourage walking and community interaction. The developer provided a community meeting space/ bakery to further encourage interaction. I like that the mailboxes are centrally located so that people have to go out to pick up their mail, meeting and talking to neighbors.

I doubt that Serenbe--or the entire Chattahoochie Hill Country--will ever be a diverse community since it is rather exclusive by the nature of its planning and lack of public transportation. I don't see accommodations for the service workers who must staff the various restaurants, community spaces, and maintenance crews, so I wouldn't really call it a truly sustainable community. It will still rely on automobiles to bring customers to its shops, restaurants, arts programs, and festivals; the population of the community could never support all of these programs. But as a means of preserving natural landscapes on the edges of major cities, I think it's a highly worthwhile approach.

After visiting New Town's web page, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that it is the work of Duany Plater-Zyberk. I found the streetcar page especially scandalous.

Architecture of the World:

Hindu God of the Week: