Michael Van Valkenburgh to speak March 19

Acclaimed landscape architect leading redesign of St. Louis' Gateway Arch grounds

Plans for redesigning the Gateway Arch grounds, led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, would transform downtown’s Mississippi riverfront into a cobblestone promenade. Van Valkenburgh will discuss the firm’s work March 19 for the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Image courtesy of MVVA.

“The goal of our work is to create parks that are intrinsically urban — not places to escape from the city, but places to escape within the city.”

So observes landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, principal of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), in a recent interview with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

It’s an idea that informs many of MVVA’s projects, from the recently opened Pier One in New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park to the firm’s current proposals for the 91-acre park surrounding St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 19, Van Valkenburgh will discuss MVVA’s work as part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ spring Public Lecture Series.

The talk is free and open to the public and will take place in Steinberg Hall Auditorium, located near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. A reception for Van Valkenburgh will precede the lecture, at 6 p.m.

For more information, call (314) 935-9300 or visit samfoxschool.wustl.edu.

MVVA won the Arch grounds commission in fall 2010, following a 10-month architectural competition that drew 49 proposals from firms around the world. Organized by The CityArchRiver Foundation, the project is estimated to cost more than $500 million and to be largely constructed by Oct. 28, 2015 — the 50th anniversary of the original completion of the Arch.

MVVA’s design encompasses a number of strategies for better integrating both the Arch grounds and the Mississippi riverfront into the life of downtown St. Louis. Major elements include:

  • building a pedestrian land bridge over the depressed lanes of Interstate 70;
  • redeveloping Kiener Plaza as a link between the Arch, the Old Courthouse and Citygarden;
  • expanding and adding a new glass-and-steel entrance to the Arch museum;
  • rebuilding Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, which runs alongside the Mississippi, as a cobblestone promenade;
  • slinging a gondola across the river to the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on the Illinois bank; and
  • restoring approximately 100 acres of wetlands in the Metro East.

In addition to his work with MVVA, Van Valkenburgh is the Charles Eliot Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where he teaches landscape design as well as the use of plants as design material.

A fellow of the ASLA, Van Valkenburgh’s numerous honors include the National Design Award in Environmental Design from the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture for contributions to the practice of architecture as an art.

In 2010, MVVA’s design for Brooklyn Bridge Park was awarded the prestigious Brendan Gill Prize from the Municipal Art Society of New York, which recognizes works of art that best exemplify and contribute to the vibrant life of New York City.