Canadian Architect


Opera Urbanus

December 1, 2006
by Canadian Architect

ARCHITECT Baird Sampson Neuert Architects Inc.

LOCATION St. Louis, Missouri

The winning submission to an invited architectural competition, this new public plaza celebrates the adjacent historic old post office of St. Louis and actively engages the surrounding urban form. A dramatic three-dimensional armature is proposed to provide substantive user amenity and to involve the public in the unfolding urban drama of a revitalized downtown. Its morphology incorporates surrounding built features into a dynamic stage for public life inspired by an operatic interpretation of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus.

The large figurative sculpture obtained for the project, entitled Torso di Ikaro by artist Igor Mitoraj, will inevitably associate the myth of Daedalus with the plaza. The design concept endeavours to explore the deeper structure of ideas that the myth encompasses. Not only was Daedalus the key protagonist of one of the great narratives of flight, he was often associated with early manifestations of public space and public art in ancient Greece. With a genesis lost in prehistoric times, the Greek narrative tradition attributed these public artworks to Daedalus, an architect and a sculptor. This practice, in addition to Daedalus’ odyssey with his son Icarus through physical space to the mental space of self-awareness, find corollaries in the invented space of the design concept. It presents a sweeping trajectory of movement across the site and into the air. Dynamic changes in terrain present diverse viewpoints from which to contemplate the site either from an elevated position, or conversely, to actively appear in the activities and life on the plaza floor.

The operatic narrative unfolds through a suite of eight urban design elements whose names and topological relationships engage with the site and recall the narrative structure of the myth. A spiral of movement into the site and upward commences in the Beech Wood Labyrinth in the southeast, continues westward across the Urban Square, bridging over a large Water Basin to the Island of Thorns, then northward to the Theatre Plateau, and finally turning back eastward to follow the long ramp of Daedalus Rise to Ikaro Fall, an urban balcony and tall water cascade at the bottom of which the torso sculpture is situated on a plinth of water at the Close of an oblong caf terrace connecting to the street. An undulating copper wall and a perforated stainless steel screen frame and compress the view up the ramp directing the eye to the sky. The stairs, the ramp, the elevated platform and the accessible space below it allow the torso to be viewed in the round from different angles along with other plaza elements. These multiple viewpoints engage the body with the hollowed cast bronze sculpture’s positive and negative spaces and situate them in relation to the plastic volumes and spaces of the old post office faade on the opposite side of the square.

Berke: This urban square is designed to link several public buildings. Although we felt that it had some major moments of overdesign, the overall concept was strong and the intentions admirable. A lot of different urban landscape ideas were being forced into a small area: however, one had to acknowledge the finesse and talent with which it was handled.

Sweetapple: The design of this plaza in St. Louis uses many appropriately scaled urban park forms expressed as metaphors: labyrinth, island, plateau and basin. The relationships between the forms give the scheme real substance. The park is a continual choreography through these elements, giving rise to a variety of spaces enhancing public life.

Teeple: This design for a new public square in St. Louis admirably resolves an extremely difficult task–the definition of a public realm in the accidental, leftover conditions so often found in the North American city. Open on three sides yet bound by a number of arbitrary existing conditions, the new square successfully overlays a sequence of new landscapes over the existing set of conditions and relates these landscapes to public buildings off-site. One wonders if all edges were thoroughly considered at the current stage of the design.

Client Downtown St. Louis Partnership

Architect Team Barry Sampson, Mauro Carreno, Teddy Benedicto, Yves Bonnardeaux, Hugh Clark, Winda Lau, Mark Martin, Adrian Phiffer, Nene Stout, Jose Uribe

Structural Blackwell Bowick Partnership Ltd.

Consultants Dan Euser Waterarchitecture Inc.

Area 29,338 ft2

Budget withheld

Completion Tender–November 2006

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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