Location: 8th and Market St St Louis, MO 63101
Size: 2.9 acres (two square city blocks)
Cost: $30 million
Official Opening Date: July 1, 2009
Citygarden drew me to St. Louis.
In 2010, I attended a National Building Museum: Spotlight on Design lecture led by Warren T. Byrd, Jr., FASLA, of the Charlottesville, VA-based landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz. In that lecture, Byrd introduced Citygarden from its design conception to execution and I was thoroughly impressed. From then on, St. Louis, previously an obscure city somewhere along the Mississippi River, was permanently put on the map.
As part of the downtown revitalization plan, the Gateway Foundation sponsored a design competition to transform two city blocks of grass into a vibrant urban park. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects won the competition and thus, Citygarden was created.
Described as a cross between a sculpture garden, a botanic garden and a city park, the 2.9-acre park continues to draw huge crowds since its summer opening three years ago. Citygarden features twenty-four contemporary and modern sculptures, whimsical water play, and a diversity of spaces to accommodate all groups. Perhaps unparalleled in its openness and accessibility, Citygarden has no fences or gates, nor any signs asking you to keep your feet off the grass and your hands off the public art. There are, however, security guards who parole the premises (a security office is hidden on the side of the park).
The design of Citygarden drew inspiration from the cultural, historical, and environmental histories of St. Louis. From Nelson Byrd Woltz’s description:
Acknowledging its position in the heart of the Gateway Mall a few blocks west of the noble Arch and the Mississippi River, the Garden is structured in three precincts delineated by two walls. The northern precinct represents the river bluffs and is most urban in character. The café is located here. The middle precinct represents the low floodplain. The southern precinct represents the cultivated river terraces with its lush gardens. The most pronounced design gesture is a 550-foot long arcing wall of Missouri limestone that defines the edge between the urban precinct and the grassy ‘floodplain’. Evoking the geologically expressive bends and bluffs of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the wall is constructed of 1200 blocks of locally quarried stone.
The project gained international acclaim when it was crowned winner of the prestigious 2011 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award as well as a recipient of the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Professional Honor Award. As an economic boon to downtown St. Louis, the park is the catalyst and new standard for future development in the city.
Citygarden was also designed with many sustainable and stormwater management elements; two-thirds of the site’s stormwater is managed on site and nearly half of the surface area is permeable. Working with the Missouri Botanical Garden, the designers were also able to highlight Missouri’s flora with a collective of native trees, shrubs, grasses, groundcovers and wildflowers.
Walking around Citygarden, I realized that had it not been for all the local and regional references to St. Louis and Missouri, I would have forgotten that I was in St. Louis. Citygarden is vibrant, manicured and dynamic–jazz plays in the background, families bring their kids out to splash in the fountains, and there were multiple modeling shoots going on in the park when I visited. Citygarden did not fail to disappoint: the sculptures were varied, interesting, and even interactive; visitors are encouraged to engage with the space, playing in the splash fountain or stepping on tiles that produced music; the contrast between the dark, cool and smooth serpentine low walls and the warm hues of rough quarried Missouri limestone arc capture the diversity and richness within this park. I love Citygarden.