21 December 2009

re: Arch Grounds Design Competition

Following is a letter to the editor published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from architect Laurent Jean Torno, Jr. of Laurent Jean Torno, Jr. & Associates.
Open vigorous — not limited — competition for Arch grounds
That St. Louis and the National Park Service would contemplate a semi-closed competition based on a review of resumes and brain-picking is astonishing in its timidity and lack of confidence. This is an opportunity to unleash a vigorous and intense competition of ideas, open to all comers.

Eero Saarinen probably could not have submitted a compelling resume at the onset of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition, though his father, Ellel, might have. And Eliel Saarinen almost certainly would not have made a preselected list of finalists based on his resume for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition. His extraordinary second-place finish launched his very distinguished career in America.

Harris Armstrong was a fine St. Louis architect, but his resume would not have earned him a chance at the Jefferson Memorial competition. He was one of five prize winners, none renowned firms or individuals. Many major firms failed with their attempts.

Maya Lin won the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition as an architectural student. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Arch are two of the most elegant and profound monuments of the 20th century. Both resulted from competitions open to all, as was the Tribune Tower competition. The Flight 93 National Memorial and the Oklahoma City National Memorial pale in comparison.

No individual or elite group can divine which individual or firm embodies the most imaginative and creative talent.

Walter Metcalfe Jr., former Sen. John Danforth and other leaders of the effort to make the Gateway Arch grounds more exciting and accessible deserve our thanks for that vision and very considerable effort. It is time to raise that vision to another level: Prepare a succinct competition program, appoint a distinguished jury, sweep away the middle-men and unleash an intense and open competition of ideas. St. Louis and the National Park Service deserve nothing less.
Laurent Jean Torno Jr., University City
Laurent Jean Torno Jr. & Associates

I concur with many of Mr. Torno's comments.  A two stage competition with open submissions from a relatively widely defined group would be a much more inclusive an desirable beginning point.  For example, the pool of qualified applicants could include all registered architects, landscape architects and urban design professionals.  Submissions could be limited to designers in the United States or could be extended internationally.  Prizes could be offered for the best designs with the guarantee only that they be included in the final round of submissions along with other preselected candidates.

View from the Arch

An exhibition, conference and publication of the results of such a competition could have many benefits to the design community in general, Saint Louis in particular, and the Arch Grounds most importantly!


  1. I enthusiastically agree! What are they afraid of? I was so excited to see this "competition" and then so disappointed to see the form was a submission of previously executed similar projects. I miss the equal opportunity a competition would have given me and I think it is a shame that the entire community will not benefit from seeing a wide-range of designs, ideas, etc.

  2. Andrew, Thanks for posting my father's letter re Arch Grounds Design Competition. The current approach seeking submission of previously executed similar projects would disqualify candidates such as a young Maya Lin or youthful Eero Saarinen (winner of the OPEN competition to design The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). Saint Louis deserves the quality and attention resulting from an OPEN design competition.


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