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Sunday, April 29, 2007

SkyHouse Raising Issues

The proposed SkyHouse project at the southwest corner of 14th and Washington raises interesting issues. On one hand, we have a 22-story condominium building with a thoroughly contemporary design. While the details of the design aren't evident in published renderings, the overall streamlined appearance is attractive if not original. This is the sort of building that gets built several times a year in Chicago, and has not been built in St. Louis' downtown in forty years.

On the other hand, the project would entail demolition of two historic but remuddled buildings: a two-story corner storefront known best as the home of Ehrlich's Cleaners, and a one-story building to its west. Both buildings have had been clad in stucco, and historic appearance is weak. The corner building does still display the shape of its parapet and its beautiful cast-iron storefront. The buildings join other, more intact buildings around the intersection in proving traces of the sort of scale of commercial buildings that were mostly lost in the twentieth-century building and later parking lot booms. These building set a nice counterpoint to the six- or ten-story wholesale buildings in Washington Avenue and create openings within the street canyon for nice urban views.

The SkyHouse would dramatically alter the feeling of this site by introducing a very different size of scale to Washington. The tall modern mass would also create visual variety and perhaps serve as a more hopeful symbol of the street's stability than two badly-altered smaller buildings. Certainly, preservation of the two historic buildings is unlikely.

However, whether or not SkyHouse gets built, the proposal should be the start of serious discussion about how we should make the kinds of choices downtown new construction will force. There are many smaller historic buildings, some lacking any official landmark status, whose demolition might create larger sites for bigger development. Yet their loss could also destroy the visual variety and differences in height and building size that make downtown an attractive place. One SkyHouse is great, but ten similar buildings grouped near each other seems a rather gloomy prospect.

Chicago has never really established a cultural preservation plan that leads to comprehensible choices. That city has let developers run cultural preservation policy by default, with mixed results and a rise in visual homogenization. Other cities, like Minneapolis and New York, have found better ways to retain the architectural qualities that define places as special. St. Louis is gifted with a great historic architectural stock, and decisions about its conservation need to be made carefully.

(As usual, there is lively discussion about this project on the Urban St. Louis form. Read it here.)


Anonymous said...


What was the first white man development built on the site of the Merchandise Mart?

When they built the Merchandise Mart, do you think the people back then had a second thought about demolishing those previous buildings?

And aren't we better off for the work that they did?

Things don't start out as an Emerald City, but we're heading in that direction again finally.

Sky House, and twenty more like it, will get us that much closer.

Anonymous said...

Come on now, these are two little buildings that don't even begin to compare to the half-block, marble-clad Century building. Plus, Skyhouse will will add a lot more street life than Ninth Street Garage.

Anonymous said...

WHAT?! How does this monstrosity fit in with the rest of the streetscape on Washington Ave? I don't mind that a newer building may be put in place of the cleaners, but it is obvious some folks are not even familiar with this location! Over on Urban Review people are asking what this corner looks like and why can't we do this on all the corners. Maybe they should ACTUALLY go downtown and walk around that neighborhood. You would see that this contemporary behemoth would look drastically out of place on that stretch of Washington Ave. This style would fit better into the area east of ball park village or maybe in Clayton, not on Washington Ave.

Anonymous said...

A. Torch, this will fit in perfectly because it is different and modern. Cities thrive when there is variety. There is absolutely NO reason this won't fit into the streetscape.

Anonymous said...

There is EVERY reason it won't fit into the streetscape, as I addressed above. I am guessing harmony and functionality of an overall streetscape and neighborhood means nothing to you. That is ok, maybe you can get a job with Blairmont with that ideology. I will gladly root against this project and hope for its demise.

Anonymous said...

You are probably one of the people who feel that the crap new construction built in Soulard also looks great! I think it is horrible when new construction mimics old styles. Architecture needs to demonstrate the tastes and styles of the present day, not something old. At the same time, we should never tear down something historic, but that is not necessarily the case here, due to past botched renovations. This type of architecture will fit in perfectly, giving the street an added mix of street presence. When people try to mimic an older style it is always contrite and just plain looks bad. I read your reasons for this building not fitting in, and I disagree with every single one of them. A new building, regardless of height, can still fit in with "harmony and functionality of an overall streetscape" as you said, especially here.

You know nothing about me and lumping me in with Blairmont because of my opinion is insulting, just as your opinions on architecture are insulting (to me). I am totally opposed to what Blairmont is proposing, and this new building has no relation to that discussion.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint about the building is that the lower floors are a little too close to the street. A foot or two farther back from the sidewalk would do it. Otherwise I love the design; the two existing buildings are long gone; as was pointed out, we aren't talking about the Century building here. For that matter, I tried to help the owner of the cleaners get funds to fix his building 7-8 years ago, and he wasn't interested, so I have little sympathy.

Chris said...

I'm intrigued by anonymous's statement that he tried to help get the building fixed up 7-8 years ago. Can you provide more details?

Anonymous said...

Great! I was worried that all those new strip malls coming to downtown wouldn't have any customers.