Gateway Arch Museum, St. Louis
Architects: Cooper Robertson, New York; James Carpenter Design Associates, New York; and Trivers Associates Architects, St. Louis
Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Exhibition Design: Haley Sharpe Design Ltd. of London and Toronto
Stainless Steel in Entrance: Seele
Glass in Entrance: Sedak
Vegetated Roof Waterproofing Membrane: Laurenco Waterproofing
Vegetated Roof Asphaltic Protection Board: WR Meadows
XPS Rigid Insulation: Dow
Geo-composite Drainage Mat: Versicell
Geofoam Fill: Insulgrade XV
Filter Fabric: Mirafi
Expansion Atrium Tube LED Lighting and Renovation Tram Lobby LED Lighting: Nanometer
Renovation LED Downlights: USAI Lighting
Expansion Canopy LED Downlights and Trough LED Lighting: Electrix
Toilets and Urinals: American Standard
Infrared Faucets: Chicago Faucets
Kitchen Faucets and Barrier-free Drinking Fountain: Elkay
Located at the base of Eero Saarinen’s iconic Arch, within a National Park, the underground museum explores seminal events in American history, such as President Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s exploration of North America in 1804, and the role of St. Louis in the settlement of the American West. The museum had suffered from a lack of visibility and needed a more relevant and contemporary narrative.
The new museum occupies a renovated underground space built concurrently with the Arch with a 47,000-square-foot expansion to the west and a new entrance facing the Old Courthouse, site of the landmark 1857 trial of the slave Dred Scott. The majority of the interior of the existing space was reconfigured into new galleries, public amenities and museum staff offices. The original architectural elements of the existing public spaces were preserved, and their distinctive character highlighted with new lighting and other discrete interventions. The addition houses a new public lobby that also serves as a kind of visitor center for the entire park, as well as a great hall with monumental and animated elements that introduce the visitor to major themes to be explored in the galleries.
The new circular stainless-steel and glass entrance refers to the Arch in its materiality and form. It is an arc laid onto the landscape and precisely inserted into the topography, allowing visitors to enter the building through the landscape rather than descending underground. As one enters, the luminous great hall is revealed with views deep into the underground museum’s monumentally scaled exhibits, elevating and enlivening the visitor experience while drawing one in.
A giant map of North America floats below the entry hall. Visitors and school groups can land there and walk the path of Lewis and Clark or follow the trails of pioneers migrating west. The map also is designed as a unique space for special events. Beneath the map is a new Education Center that supports the park’s programs, which previously had no dedicated space.
One moves down through the hall among screens projecting life-sized videos of wagon trains journeying west across an open and rugged landscape with bison and other natural features of the frontier before entering the galleries.
The linear exhibition offers various ways to navigate multiple stories on single and successive visits and merges seamlessly with the trip up the Arch.
The museum is fully accessible for all ages and all abilities. The design is based on Universal Design standards that exceed the legal requirements of the American with Disabilities Act and the federal-mandated Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Standard.
This project is a key component of the larger plan to connect downtown St. Louis with the park and the Mississippi Riverfront; the underground museum expands toward downtown and opens onto a redesigned public square that now spans over a sunken interstate highway. The new museum and Old Courthouse create an ensemble of buildings of national significance that define a transformed public open space in downtown St. Louis. Taken together with the Arch, this will become a new destination for those interested in architecture and history, contribute to the quality of urban life for residents and drive economic revitalization.
This project is a result of an international competition, “Framing a Modern Masterpiece: The City + The Arch + The River”, which was organized by the non-profit Gateway Arch Park Foundation. The $96 million museum is the cultural centerpiece of the overall $380 million comprehensive renewal of the Gateway Arch National Park.
Editor’s Note: In early 2019, the Gateway Arch Park Foundation announced the Visitor Center and Museum at the Gateway Arch had been awarded LEED Gold in recognition of sustainable site development, water savings and building materials selection. The Visitor Center and Museum join the exclusive ranks of only 10 other LEED-certified sites in the National Park Service and 185 LEED projects in St. Louis.
First Photo: Cooper Robertson
Second Photo: Nic Lehoux