Saarinen's St. Louis Arch embodies American ambition

Submitted by vcb_prod on Mon, 08/12/2019 - 18:47
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{"version":"0.3.0","atoms":[],"cards":[],"markups":[["a",["href","https:\/\/www.aia.org\/awards\/7141-twenty-five-year-award","target","_new"]],["i"]],"sections":[[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Eero Saarinen\u0027s monument to the\nopening of the American West and its progenitor Thomas Jefferson could not be\nmore simple\u2013nor more powerful. A stainless steel arch that soars\nabove the banks of the Mississippi River in St Louis, the Gateway Arch is a\nbrilliant and many-layered symbol of the heart of America and of the modern\nage."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Built\nto commemorate the Louisiana Purchase, the officially named Jefferson Westward\nExpansion Memorial was established by Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 as the nation\u0027s\nfirst National Historic Site. But the arch memorializes far more than the\nopening of the trans-Mississippi West. (Lewis and Clark began their expedition\nacross the new land to the Pacific from here.) The genius of this 630-foot-high\npiece of abstract sculpture is that its absolute simplicity allows many\nvarieties of interpretation. As Saarinen wrote, \u0022I was trying to reach for\nan absolutely permanent form\u2013a high form.\u0022 "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The competition for the memorial\nwas held in 1948, work began in 1958, and the arch was completed in 1965, after\nmany revisions. Its designer was a little-known 38-year-old Finnish immigrant. He\nwas, nevertheless, the son of Eliel Saarinen, one of the most respected\nEuropean architects and director of the influential Cranbrook Academy of Art, often\ncalled the cradle of American modernism. There were 172 entries for the gateway\nmemorial, and entrants included such well-known names as Walter Gropius, Minoru\nYamasaki, Louis Kahn, Charles and Ray Eames, and the elder Saarinen. Members of\nthe jury included MIT dean William Wurster, director of the Philadelphia Museum\nof Art and Jefferson scholar Fiske Kimball, and the architect Richard Neutra;\nthe competition advisor was the architect and soon-to-be chairman of\narchitecture at Yale, George Howe. The jury\u0027s vote for the younger Saarinen\u0027s\ndesign was unanimous."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Finance and siting issues delayed\nconstruction of the arch. There was a decade-long delay while the railroad was relocated\nfrom the levee. The riverfront had already been cleared of 40 blocks of historic\nstructures, including the oldest house in the city. (This provides a troubling insight\ninto how we deal with our past, as the commercial hub of Western expansion was\nrazed for a park to commemorate that story.)"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Saarinen\nand his co-designers, his wife the sculptor Lily Swann Saarinen, designer\nAlexander Girard, and Dan Kiley put the time delay to good use. Kiley, who would\nbecome the premier modern landscape architect, had almost 90 acres of park to lay\nout, including a proposed mini-forest of trees as an homage to Saarinen\u0027s\nFinnish homeland."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The most important change to the\nwinning design was the tweaking of the arch. It was made forty feet higher, and\nthe shape was changed from a parabola to a more graceful catenary arch. The result was\na giant abstract sculpture wrapped in stainless steel, what the architect\ncalled \u0022the most permanent material we have.\u0022"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Only a few years after America saved\nthe world from totalitarianism, we found the energy to create something so\nastoundingly bold. Not a single worker died during an incredibly perilous\nconstruction. It was also completed in the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, as\nthe nation\u0027s fabric unraveled over the Vietnam War and social issues. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Saarinen went onto design number\nof notable civic monuments that challenged our ideas of how to design corporate\nheadquarters, tall buildings, airports, college dormitories, and houses of\nworship. That fruitful creative burst was cut short by his premature death at\nthe age of 51 in 1961. Architecture between the end of the war and the turn of\nthe millennium experienced multifarious changes, not least of all the architect\u0027s\nreputation. (A proposed Bicentennial exhibition on the arch\u0027s designer at the\nSmithsonian was shelved when a poll of architects determined that Saarinen was\npass\u00e9.)"]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"Now,\nhalf a century since its construction and almost thirty years since it\nwon the AIA\u0027s "],[0,[0],1,"Twenty-five Year Award"],[0,[],0,", the St Louis Arch is firmly enshrined in the\npantheon of the world\u0027s most recognizable and greatest works of architecture.\nEero Saarinen hoped that his design would provide \u0022a symbolic gateway to\nthe west.\u0022 But it has evolved into so much more than that. "]]],[1,"p",[[0,[],0,"The Gateway Arch is a tribute to many\nnoble values: western civilization, an immigrant\u0027s vision, \nthe promise of America, the frontier spirit, the Mississippi River of\nHuckleberry Finn, modernism, American technology, our country\u0027s greatest\ncontributor to the Enlightenment. This beloved and courageous stroke upon the Midwestern\nsky has become a Walt Whitman-esque song to ourselves."]]],[1,"p",[[0,[1],1,"William Morgan is an architectural historian and writer. He lives in Providence, RI. "],[0,[],0," "]]]]}
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Eero Saarinen's monument to the opening of the American West makes a simple, powerful statement.
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