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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Next Step: Parking Lot?



I vowed to not describe the building replacing the Doctors Building at Euclid and West Pine, but here I go. Given the impending possibility that the San Luis Apartments building will be demolished, the demise of the Doctors Building is telling. The mid-century modern design of the Doctors Building was poorly appreciated, and news of its replacement through construction of two 30-story towers was welcome news to many people.

Yet the towers will never be built. The Mills Group couldn't make the financing work for its grand plan. Demolition proceeded, and the substitute plan emerged. What we have here is a building completely out of its league. Unable to compete with the fine architecture of the Central West End, this building's design resigns itself to mediocrity. Rather than try to be fresh, the architects employed the same design tricks keeping the St. Charles County metroplex building on up. There's the base of stone veneer (that is stone, right?), the dark brick above, the mangled quotations from other styles.

There are pointless differentiations of the wall plane through setback, despite the fact that both Euclid and West Pine are fairly straight at this intersection and both have decent pedestrian traffic. In fact, the rendering suggests that the building's west wall actually steps away from the street. While dramatic in the exaggerated corner perspective drawing, such a move is hardly appropriate to the street wall of Euclid.

At the top, the building's wall goes white in some attempt to imitate stone. Oddly, there is no cornice. Rather, the walls recess to create private balconies. The pedestrian's eye, however, may be diverted to the prominent corner clock tower, rising a full story above the roof. Instead of selecting an elegant human-scaled clock integrated with the building, the architects have stuck this over sized timepiece on top. Perhaps the goal is to smother the building's flaws in the manner restaurants heap grated cheese atop bowls of wilted iceberg lettuce. Trouble is, people will be looking at this building from the ground level -- not from a spot inside of an invisible Forest Park Hotel. People will spend more time looking at whatever stone will clad the base than at the clock.

I know that I should count my blessings -- the Doctors Building's obscene parking lot will be subsumed by an actual building and there won't be a giant vacant lot for years. I suppose that under some circumstances I could lull myself into thinking these blessings outweigh all other concerns. After all, that line of acceptance is doing well for St. Charles County.

Yet I can't fool myself. The building replacing the Doctors Building is downright inappropriate for any historic neighborhood in the city. This building is an affront to the dignified architecture of the Central West End, and its construction shows a carelessness that could erode decades of hard-achieved acceptance of high standards there. Such a climate benefits the Archdiocese's short-term plan to level the San Luis without any planned construction. Do we want to find out what the step is from bad building at Euclid and West Pine to a new parking lot on Lindell?

The worst step following this blunder would be loss of another large building for an even lower use -- a parking lot. The Central West End never attracted a lot of mid-century architecture, but what it got fits into the context with grace -- unlike some of our contemporary structures. What happened at the Doctors Building should not be the start of backtracking on design standards in the Central West End, but a rallying point for their assertion.

12 comments:

Lindsey said...

This rendering makes me want to cry.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

You are an awesome writer, and make many interesting observations. However, I suspect the architects behind this project would make many points in defense of their plan.

A question to anyone reading this...what if the development offers for sale condo units, and they bring upwards of $500,000 per copy?

Would such financial results, even during a low ebb in the realty market, indicate an overall success for this project?

Chris said...

It's a tough call for me; the filling of a surface lot in the CWE is certainly something to celebrate, but at what cost?

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the materials. I swear to god they better not allow that fake stucco crap in the CWE. If this building was entirely made of stone and brick, and perhaps made a few fixes along the top two floors, I don't think it would be THAT terrible. There are far worse examples in the CWE. Look along Forest Park Parkway just east of Taylor. YIKES! Strip Mall, and two awful senior housing buildings.

Doug Duckworth said...

Ok, build something on the surface lot and save the doctors building. How hard is that?

Design standards and zoning reform are essential so that crap like this won't be allowed. Aldermen have absolutely no incentive to push for such standards, as the system serves them and if they challenged it they would be replaced. The burden falls upon you.

Anonymous said...

New motto:
Welcome to the new StLou!
We can look like StChuck too!

john w. said...

I think a discussion regarding what it not only urban, but what is acceptably urban and whether or not matters such as architectural style should trump physical form is in order. Urban buildings not only shape urban spaces but the activity at the street level as well, and a building such as this will undoubtedly address these issues. This building certainly smacks of the usual offerings that appear in 'safer' locales such as the stretch of Kirkwood Ave through downtown Kirwood and further out in the county, but could certainly also have been much, much worse. Doug says the burden falls on us, but simple complaining in blogs ends up in the expected place.

Michael R. Allen said...

I don't think the issue is either/or -- form and style are inexplicably tied. Form creates an urban experience, but stylistic elements determine whether or not a buildings is pleasing to the eye. People tend to like walking by and using pretty buildings, so aesthetics are not easily separated from matters of utility.

john w. said...

Oh, thoroughly agree, as those who pressed Mies regarding the dictum "form follows function" (largely attributed to Sullivan in the world of architecture) to ultimately admit that ornament and style were in fact also functions (of cultural association similar to music tonality) inextricable from the need for shelter will attest. It was Loos who declared that ornament was criminal decadence and therefore needless encumbrance, but nonetheless Mies as champion of minimalist modernism who answered for it. Anyway, I think the question I'm posing is whether we go without a base understanding of what is ornamentally or stylistically appropriate for a context(largely subjective) and risk disaffecting some urban enthusiasts, or do we try to agree to a base understanding of what is appropriate. Your post regarding this proposed building seems to reflect your opinion on its architectural value and not necessarily an indictment based upon some establish set of standards for what's appropriate. It's a tricky one.

Anonymous said...

Count me among those who did not appreciate the arresting splendor of the Doctor's Building, but its replacement is a true horror. It is not so much "architecture" as it is "pretend architecture". It has a made-up, hodgepodge appearance, and not in an interesting, eclectic way. I think the CWE deserves better.

Andrew J. Faulkner said...

Michael- Who is the architect of record for this fine project? I ask so I can snarkily bring it up the next time I have to sit through an evening of firm presentations.

stlmark said...

Can you provide me with an example of new construction (1990-present) in St. Louis that meets your standards? I am curious to understand if good architecture is even possible in this city's market.