Old Post Office Plaza: Arcturis - 2011 Honor Award

Project Description

The winner of an invited architectural competition, Old Post Office Plaza is a key element in co-ordinated public/private initiatives to bring people and vitality back to the centre of St. Louis. Created by selective demolition of a portion of a block opposite the historic Old Post Office, the Plaza provides a dynamic built and landscape terrain for residents, workers and visitors to enjoy being downtown and to reconnect with the city. The design incorporates surrounding built features into a dynamic three dimensional stage for public life and gathering inspired by an operatic interpretation of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. The large figural sculpture, obtained for the project prior to the design competition, entitled the “Torso di Ikaro” by the artist Igor Mitoraj, associates the myth of Daedalus with the Plaza. In placing this large work that is the size of a small car, the design concept endeavors to explore the deeper structure of ideas that the myth encompasses.

Not only was Daedalus the key protagonist of one of the great narratives of flight, he was often associated with early manifestations of public space and public art in ancient Greece, both as an architect and sculptor, through a narrative practice attributing to him works in public spaces whose genesis was lost in prehistory. This ancient practice is given tribute in the invented space of the new Plaza. The site is organized as a suite of eight urban design elements whose topological relationships and design character engage users with the site, provide complementary conditions of amenity and recall the narrative structure of the myth. A spiral of movement into the site and upward commences in a Labyrinth of seating walls shaded by London Plane trees in the southeast, moves westward across an open Square featuring the Old Post Office as its set-piece, bridges over a large water basin to a sloping Island of flowering Winter King Green Hawthorns, then moves northward across a terraced Plateau featuring the historic American Theatre as its set-piece, and finally turns back eastward to follow a long rise to an urban balcony and tall water cascade marking the location of the Torso situated on a plinth of water below. Contained between an undulating zinc clad Cloud Wall above a public bench and a perforated stainless steel screen wall providing shade, the view up the ramp is compressed, directing the eye to the sky. At the end of the ramp, the cantilevered cast-in-place concrete platform and stairs together with a lower platform at water level provide a variety of viewpoints from which to enjoy the sculpture’s surfaces and positive and negative spaces, as well as the surrounding panorama of the reawaking city core of St. Louis.


Role of Landscape Architect

The architects were from out of town therefore as landscape architect, we had to coordinate with the architects and engineers on hardscape details, design all the landscape and urban landscape details and perform frequent site visits during construction.


Special Factors and Significance

The Old Post Office Plaza is located on a brownfield site created by urban demolition and framed on three sides by public streets lined with heritage buildings, the “Plaza” was intended to feature the most important, the Old Post Office. Creation of Old Post Office Plaza in combination with adaptive reuse and restoration of the nineteenth century landmark was to act as a catalyst for revitalization and re-inhabitation of the historic city core. After winning the competition in 2003, several years elapsed during which time the firm assisted the competition sponsors with initiatives to complete project fundraising and co-ordinate development of the new urban space with that of an adjacent parcel slated to contain the first high density residential development in the downtown for generations.

Once the thriving centre of late nineteenth to mid twentieth century St. Louis, much of the district’s remarkable collection of mid rise commercial loft buildings had been vacated and the district was in the process of commercial failure, signaled by the closure of once venerated downtown department stores. Promoted by the City and a coalition of nonprofit groups, led by Downtown Now, and supported by the Gateway Foundation and the Danforth Foundation who funded the new plaza, this new public space was located at the centre of a number of strategic improvements to the district focused on residential loft conversion and renewal of the public realm. This included extensive streetscape improvements and reinvigoration of street level retail to promote urban vitality, as well as support services to enhance day to day attractiveness and security.

In addition to revaluing the surrounding cultural landscape of downtown heritage buildings, transformation of the half block site, 29,000 square foot lot, into a new public space had to address the design challenge of its remnant north elevation. Partially defined by the side of the historic American Theatre, located across a lane, the character of this edge varied from the handsome Italianate elevation of the theatre’s entry pavilion to the tall blank wall and fire escapes of its theater hall and beyond that included an un-built development site reserved for a new hotel/condominium.

The Plaza’s urban design elements provide substantive user amenities and actively engage the surrounding urban form. The key plan shows the plaza location within Saint Louis’ Central Business District. The site plan depicts the variety of elements that are further described in future slides.

A random array of seating walls and strips of under storey planting along with the strong play of light and shadow of the London plane trees evoke Daedalus’ disorienting labyrinth and provide a shady respite from the intense summer sun. The canopy mass of the glade defines the east side of the Square and provides a filtered entry from the south east. The fascinating branch shapes and unique tree bark of the London plane trees provide visual interest long in to the winter.

The Square aligns with the central portico of the Post Office and extends its presence and paving across Locust Street. The top picture shows the recent past use of the space prior to the plaza. The bottom picture shows the rendering of what was proposed and built at the plaza.

The openness of the Square provides a venue for programmed events and spontaneous gathering and features the historic Post Office as its set piece and southern backdrop. The Square gently slopes to the east to direct rainwater to the Labyrinth which drains into the open paving and into the planted strips and tree pits. The soil base is designed with structural soil and tree trenches spanning the plaza depth to promote root growth in compacted urban soil, reduce peak flows to the storm sewer system, and reduce the amount of irrigation typically used in this climate. Wing-like lighting fixtures recall the Daedalus’ inventions, provide light and projection source for night animation onto the stainless steel screen to the north. The basin defines the north and west edges of the Square and links the south west and north east comers of the Plaza and provides a visual amenity for users of the Plaza and a source of cooling through the natural process of evaporation. UV filters are utilized to maintain the quality of water while avoiding the chemical agents customarily used in fountains.

The island of Thorns’ fractured formation rises out of the Basin toward the street corner and marks the south western entry to the Plaza. Entered from the Square by a bridge, the island of Thorns provides a ramped connection to the Theatre Plateau. The island serves as a raised planter with seating situated in a shady green environment of low shrubs and grasses. An allee of hawthorn trees provide dappled shade and seasonal color.

From Locust Street, there is an entry which focuses on a visual axis to the American Theatre. The Theatre Plateau is a raised plateau that defines the west side of the plaza with a series of gracious steps lining the edge of the street. The Plateau provides a vantage point to overlook the Square and is a venue for staging special events. Terraces facing the Square step down in to the Basin and provide a beach like setting for users to sit or get their feet wet in cooling water. The Daedalus Rise is a cast-in-place concrete structure that ramps in between a billowing wall of zinc and screen of perforated stainless steel panels. These elements are composed to frame the handsome south end of the American Theatre façade and to mask the service elements of the building. A continuous bench along the zinc wall, under an ever changing shadow pattern caused by the perforated stainless steel screen provides the users a more intimate space to sit and overlook activities in parts of the plaza to the south. During the days the Screen will reflect the sky and at night provide a surface that can be used for image projection for major events in the Square. The Icarus Fall, a waterfall from the top of the zinc wall frames the platform overlooking the Torso di Ikaro in the basin below. A deck tucked under the platform of the Daedalus Rise provides an eye level view of the Torso di Ikaro. The Icarus Close, a paved oblong surface runs along the north edge of the Labyrinth provides a sunny terrace and an opportunity for outdoor cafe tables and chairs associated with a restaurant to be located in the Hotel’s proposed extension. The elements above encourage a varied and continuous urban opera of daily life, and re-interprets the idea of public space for downtown St. Louis.

Tu Bong Urban Master Plan: HOK - 2011 Honor Award

Tu Bong New Urban Zone Conceptual Master Plan

Van Phong Bay, Vietnam

Overall Project Summary

The Tu Bong Master Plan provides the framework to develop a sustainable city based on the natural systems of a sensitive site that will creatively synthesize human need, environmental stewardship, and economic viability; a global model of urbanism where man and nature will live, grow and prosper in harmony. 

The Master Plan capitalizes on the unique potential of the site to create significant and meaningful urban fabric while protecting the sensitive ecosystems along a quickly developing coastline.  A mixed-use programmatic strategy will integrate dense urban fabric, productive landscape, and luxury resorts into catalysts that activate the site.  The resulting urban landscape will be rooted in an in-depth analysis of the sensitive natural systems.  By synthesizing market demands into a coherent and visionary idea that respects both current and future eco-systems, it will attract investors while maintaining a high quality of life for inhabitants and visitors. Through this integration of landscape and urban density, it will act as a model of sustainable development for new cities along the entire coast of Vietnam. 

Project Purpose / Program

The 2000 hectare site for the new city lies along the coast of Van Phong Bay.  Located in the Khanh Hoa Province of Vietnam, the site offers great potential due to the development of a new deep sea port in the Van Phong Economic Zone and its relative proximity to the vacation destination of Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.  The Master Plan strives to build upon the natural strengths of the site by emphasizing its advantageous position at the heart of the Bay and the vast natural land and seascape that surrounds it. 

Tu Bong is intended to accommodate 58,000 inhabitants by 2020 and 110,000 once it is fully completed.  Programmatically, the plan includes a civic and cultural center, health centers, educational centers, parks, and recreation amenities to compliment mixed use residential fabric.  The parks and recreational system will include a sports center and a botanical garden.  The residential fabric will hold a diverse range of densities by maintaining and renovating existing neighborhoods, adding low rise infill, and introducing high rise typologies.  Major infrastructural improvements will include a marina, a re-routed high way, and a new train station. 

Role of the Landscape Architect

The design team developed the conceptual master plan and produced all images included. 

Special Factors & Significance

In order to achieve the client’s goal of a sustainable city rooted in its site, we utilized an analysis and design tool called FIT that is based in the fundamental principles of Biomimicry.   FIT (fully integrated thinking) is a planning, visioning, and goal setting and management process that establishes a framework of key considerations that are based on life’s principles and systems integration.  Using Biomimicry as a design ethos for sustainability, we can learn from nature how to be better adapted to the planet in the long run.