Until recently, the grounds of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch were as hemmed in and isolated as the shimmering catenary curve that defines the city is grand and imperious.
Walled off by a 1,200-car parking garage on one side and a freeway gulch on the other, the arch was a car-choked hub of tourist activity: good for driving to, parking, snapping a few photos, and driving out again. The city-scaled sculpture by architect Eero Saarinen could never be an intimate part of the neighborhood.
Stretching across eight states and two Canadian provinces, the Great Lakes region contains the world’s largest freshwater system and is likely the greatest single surface aggregation of rare resources on the planet. If it was a standalone country, its economy would be the fourth largest in the world. Yet its natural resources and vibrant urbanity are seldom studied as a unified zone, and have rarely been considered the center of the North American continent’s cultural life.
To forestall the continuing growth of cities as “cancerous organisms,” the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC) was conceived in the mid-1960s by epochal technologist Athelstan Spilhaus. A modular settlement of 250,000 people or more, the city was to be powered by clean energy and run on public transit. Experimental City would be a tabula rasa—a place to begin anew, free from the constraints and compromises of past cities, located in the remote marshlands of northern Minnesota.
Away from the main exhibit of the Chicago Architecture Biennial—the country’s biggest architecture festival, on show through January—there are a half-dozen smaller “anchor” shows, hosted by neighborhood arts organizations far from downtown. These reveal a different side to Chicago’s architectural legacy, famed for the White City of 1893, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the rational Modernism of Mies van der Rohe. In a segregated city, these exhibits make the case that other neighborhoods and traditions …
Until its direction was reversed in 1900, the Chicago River was such a receptacle for effluent and filth that it poisoned Chicagoans’ beloved Lake Michigan (from which they drew their drinking water). Then it was channelized and entombed in concrete. The river has long been the city’s forgotten waterfront.
One of the most emotionally resonant exhibits in the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial is a quiet one: a set of tan-glazed tile arches in a hallway. The arches form a colonnade of sorts, which better defines a space that’s too wide for a hallway but too narrow for a gallery.