St Louis’ Gateway Arch museum is now open. The museum, which sits below Eero Saarinen’s famous arch has been renovated and expanded in a $380 million project.
The Gateway Arch museum expansion is part of efforts to inject new life into the area around the 50 year old iconic monument. Three architectural practices worked on the project – New York firms James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA) and Cooper Robertson, alongside local architects Trivers Associates.
The existing 105,800-square-foot building was gutted and revisioned. A 47,000-square-foot extension was also created.
JCDA was responsible for two new entrances to the museum – the West Entry and the Arrivals Entry Hall. The aim was to integrate the new and original museum with the landscape around the National Park Service’s Gateway Arch. “The new West Entry and museum expansion are discretely incised into the landscape,” said James Carpenter, founder and principal of JCDA. “This welcoming gesture is announced by an arc of glass laid flat on the ground, reflecting the image of the sky above, while the arch itself scribes an arc against the sky beyond.”
Remembering the Western frontier
As a primary general contractor of the Arch redevelopment, McCarthy Building Companies oversaw three of the five phases of the project. The company’s role included expanding and renovating the museum and visitors center as well as renovating both the north and south grounds surrounding the 50-year-old national monument to create a more pedestrian-friendly experience for visitors. The entire site required re-grading, new landscaping, a new irrigation system, and installation of amended soil and sod.
McCarthy, headquartered in St. Louis, is the oldest privately held national construction company, with expertise in managing complex projects and working collaboratively with multiple clients and project teams. It is also currently engaged in another major project in the city, building the new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station.
The original space on the bank of the Mississippi River was opened in 1967 and was always part of architect Eero Saarinen‘s plan for the site. His vast stainless-steel arch soars 630 feet above.
The Gateway Arch was built partly as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson. Saarinen’s brief was that it should include a museum concerning the migration movement of the American frontier. he also wanted to relate to the preservation of Old St. Louis with its landscaping. The Western frontier had reached St. Louis by 1800 and the city was a vital gateway for those travelling west.
“The design of the expanded Gateway Arch Museum presents a richer story of how the United States came to be and it also connects that new narrative to the arch,” said Scott Newman, a partner at Cooper Robertson.
Gateway Arch Museum under a grassy mound
The majority of the original museum was completely reconfigured. The new extension contains a combination of extra gallery space, public education facilities and offices. In addition, a vibrant mezzanine features a giant map showing the western migration from St Louis and other cities. Furthermore, a 100 foot video wall shows scenes from the Arch’s original construction.
The entire museum is located underneath a grassy mound. The reinforced roof deck features 2,400 cubic yards of post-tensioned concrete slabs. It also utilises GeoFoam blocks which help eliminate excess weight on the deck.
Landscaping, including enhancing the riverfront park and Memorial Drive pedestrian access was performed by New York based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). The firm had won an international design competition for the work. The project also links the arch site to the Old Courthouse and the Downtown neighbourhood.
Haley Sharpe Design is responsible for the museum exhibits. A strong emphasis has been placed on the perspectives of women and indigenous people in the story of the development of the Western frontier. The museum also tells the stories of pioneers and European settlers.
The Gateway Arch remained open and fully operational throughout the three year build.
Images: Nic Lehoux