12 December 2011

(en)visioning Hyde Park Exhibition

We had a wonderful exhibition at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group gallery which remained on view nearly through Thanksgiving. The exhibition was a great success with many visitors and lots of encouraging, supportive compliments.

View of north wall of (en)visioning Hyde Park exhibition.

Sustainability Awards!

The joint exhibition sponsored by the Missouri Gateway Chapter of the USGBC and the St. Louis' Artists' Guild is on display through Saturday, January 12, 2012. I created this video presenting the three winners of the Sustainability Awards:

21 November 2011

Film Review: Brick by Chance and Fortune

Film Review: Brick by Chance and Fortune – A Celebration of St. Louis Masonry

Brick by Chance and Fortune: A St. Louis Story is an entertaining, informative documentary about one of the most common and seemingly simple building materials: the brick. Bricks are an old technology. They aren't sexy like stainless steel or titanium. Clay bricks are about as "down to earth" as you can get, as this film demonstrates in more ways than one.

Image from official trailer.
The story of bricks in St. Louis is fundamental to understanding the city, its people, its history and its architecture. This film establishes the narrative groundwork for people unfamiliar with thinking about bricks as anything special to be able to begin to appreciate just how significant a role they play in our community's culture, economy and physical composition.

You can purchase your own copy of the DVD by attending the upcoming event at The Royale on Wednesday 23 November 2011 from 8pm to 11pm. The director will be there to sign personal copies!

Image taken from official trailer.
The centerpiece of the film is a series of compelling interviews with wonderfully demonstrative people who care deeply about the history and future of brick masonry culture in St. Louis. The subjects of the interviews include community treasures like the founder of the St. Louis Building Arts Foundation, Larry Giles, a lover and collector of St. Louis building history, Missouri Historical Society Director Robert Archibald and blogger / activist, Toby Weiss, a prolific writer and photographer of the architectural scene past and present.

The director, Bill Streeter, treats the interviews as the key scenes of the film. They are well lit and composed, the audio quality is very good and the personality they offer is remarkable. In many documentaries, interviews are treated as so many “talking heads”. This film gives the speakers the gracious, personal presentation they deserve, making them the film’s real characters and allowing them to graciously direct the film’s narrative. We are made to feel as though we’re having a conversation with some our community’s most fascinating and intelligent people.

Image taken from official trailer.
Of particular significance emotionally and intellectually are the interviews with architectural historians and preservationists Nini Harris and Michael Allen. Not since Gwendolyn Wright's star began to shine on History Detectives, have architectural historians looked and sounded so good.

Nini Harris’ knowledge and excitement are a constant touchstone giving the film genuine historical clarity and honesty combined with a touching, loving portrayal of the people who created and used the brick structures that make up the fabric of our city. She makes this story a personal one and helps to communicate many of the film's key points in a way that's understandable by laymen not initiated in the rites of architectural history, but accurate and compelling for those already captivated by the spell of St. Louis architecture. Her commentary puts the film into a social and cultural context that doesn't overly romanticize the past.

Nini Harris. Image from official trailer.
Michael Allen’s commentary is forthright and striking in a way that only he can achieve. He reveals St. Louis' geographic good fortune in containing rich and extensive clay deposits that not only made the magnificence of St. Louis architecture possible, but also formed the basis for our significant contribution to the industrialization of brick manufacturing. He describes the humble beginnings of hand-molded bricks made in wooden forms and enlightens us as to the prominent role our community played in developing brick industry nationally. Michael also speaks eloquently about the serious problems we face relating to brick theft and illegal demolition taking place on a daily basis.

Michael Allen. Image from official trailer.
The soundtrack and music for the film served to emphasize the dramatic moments. In some cases, the music provided the joyful and lyrical atmosphere necessary to hold the visual montages together. At other moments, the tragic drone of a harmonica (?) provided a haunting backdrop without becoming funereal or pessimistic. Some compositions seem to have been written and produced specifically for the film. They offer some thematic support, but the lyrics were overshadowed by the folksy rhythms and melodies.

This film could easily for the basis for an in-depth series on St. Louis architecture and building history. Such documentary programs generally seem to be the purview public television, however with funding constraints everywhere, we should all thank Bill Streeter, a native Chicagoan, for seeing the story in the humble St. Louis brick and pursuing the film through his own force of will.

Image from official trailer.
As an architect and photographer, my primary disappointment was with the visual representations of our present day buildings and streets. Too often, a reliance on extreme wide-angle pans or extreme telephoto compression of space made for a less than satisfactory appreciation of the architecture itself. Clearly, the film was created with the general educated public in mind, not so much specifically for architects and historians. The filmmaker had to make tough choices about how to best represent our rich building heritage. My preference would have been for a greater reliance on the details and textures of the buildings themselves, to the point of abstraction, rather than a more superficial gloss on the buildings themselves.

This criticism should be considered as coming from a specialist (and obsessionist) in architectural photography and representation. I imagine most of the audience found the visuals to be sufficiently compelling and illustrative. They contributed to a balanced presentation combining visuals, spoken word and music to tell an important and fascinating story. Bill Streeter deserves our thanks and appreciation for helping us to see our own city more clearly.

Anyone with an interest in St. Louis history, architecture, urbanism or building should see this film. Best viewed in a theatrical setting, you should also consider purchasing the production on DVD. Doing so will help to support more worthwhile projects of this kind. Owning the DVD may prove to be a unique reference that might not otherwise be accessible.

Film trailer:

Illustrations: The images embedded in this post are all screen shots taken from the film’s official trailer.

Andrew Raimist is a St. Louis architect, educator, writer and photographer.

20 November 2011

Bartholomew's City Plan of 1947

City Planner Harland Bartholomew developed a detailed, comprehensive plan for St. Louis which documents the existing conditions at the time and projected future development based upon increasing population density and totals. In actuality, the city's population peaked shortly thereafter and then following a steady decline as St. Louis County became increasingly suburbanized.

This chart presents four primary demographics. The top line represents the population of the United States (dashed lines at right indicate projected figures). The second pair of lines represent the populations of the states of Illinois and Missouri. The third line represents the City of St. Louis. The shorter line at the bottom represents St. Louis County.
Population growth (historical and projected)

This analysis of the population of the region formed the basis for the comprehensive plan. The caption for this illustration (Plate Number Two) reads, "St. Louis cannot expect sizeable population increases in the future."

This pair of maps compares the population density within the boundaries of the City of St. Louis as of 1940 (top) and the projected/desired density as of 1970 (bottom):

Population density (historical and projected)

As illustrated, Bartholomew suggests that the density of the city's core would increase and that the westward expansion would not only stop, but actually be reversed. The same desire for increasing the density in the center of the city has been suggested as desirable and ideal by many urban planners since, but the reality has been exactly the opposite.

The multicolored plan below represents Bartholomew's ideal Land Use Plan. The reality is much more complex and heterogeneous. Achieving such clarity in function and use was a dream for planners of the modern American city was an ideal never to be attained in practice.

Desirable Ultimate Land Use Plan

The mismatch between the actual and zoned uses are indicated in this diagram of the Lafayette Neighborhood District. These drawings compare the existing land uses with the existing zoning. Clearly the actual facts on the ground were much more heterogeneous, mixed and complex than the simplistic organization suggested by the area's zoning.

Lafayette Neighborhood District (present land use and present zoning)

The serious nature of reconfiguring the city to correspond to the desired land uses is suggested by the sample rezoning of a neighborhood in this series of plans for the Macklind Neighborhood District. From left to right the drawings depict: Present Land Use, Present Zoning and Proposed Zoning. Clearly to achieve the purity of the desired zoning would require major alterations to the city fabric.

Macklind Neighborhood District (present and proposed uses)

Achieving the clarity of vision suggested by the "Desirable Ultimate Land Use Plan" (above) would require massive rebuilding of the city as suggested by the following plan which highlights in red areas of Substandard Housing ("a measure of obsolescence and blight").

Substandard Housing

The plan indicates two areas of city which would require massive reconstruction. The red hatched areas indicate "blighted areas" and the black hatched areas indicate "obsolete districts".
Obsolete and Blighted Districts

A key method for determining whether districts were obsolete and/or blighted involved determining how many residences in the area relied on outside toilets. This map documents the absolute numbers (red figures) and the density of such conditions in the city. In general, the closer to the riverfront and the older the age of the structure, the more likely that they did not include indoor plumbing.

Percentage of Dwelling Units with Outside Toilets

The necessity for rebuilding the city along different lines altogether is made bluntly clear by this suburbanized images of a redesigned Soulard. To Bartholomew's way of thinking, this district was entirely obsolete and needed wholesale replacement.

Soulard Neighborhood District

The following map delineates neighborhoods (outlined in red) and industrial districts (highlighted in yellow). In general, the greatest density of industrial districts were located along the Mississippi River or along the Mill Creek Valley area. Both of these areas were served by extensive rail networks. These areas remain largely industrial in nature with greatly reduced railroad activity, however many of these tracks remain in place.

Neighborhood and Industrial Districts

The plan features two maps indicating the massive investments in upgrading infrastructure the city was undertaking. The first indicates the many improvements that were a part of the 1923 Bond Issue. The largest projects included major upgrades to the system supplying potable drinking water for the city ($11,000,000) and construction of the River Des Peres drainage system beginning in Forest Park, extending through the south city before draining into the Mississippi River.

Other significant improvements included the following new structures in the downtown area: Civil Courts Building, Municipal Opera House, Municipal Power Plant and the Soldiers Memorial. Other amenities included a series of public hospitals, fire houses, parks, playgrounds, sewer upgrades and a major street lighting program. Public spaces to be improved included Union Station Plaza and Memorial Plaza. The total cost of the 1923 Bond Issue exceeded $67,000,000).

1923 Bond Issue

Further investments in the city were made as part of the "Post War Bond Issue" of 1944 which totaled more than $63,000,000 and included improvements to streets, water systems, sewer systems, parks, fire stations, telephone networks, hospitals, airport, art museum and zoo.

Post War Bond Issue of 1944

Of course, the actual development of the City of St. Louis in the second half of the 20th century followed an altogether different design which was occurred through the combined action of major highway construction, massive new suburb development in the surrounding communities and the demographic shifts associated with "white flight".

If Bartholomew had considered the evidence of population shift away from the city center toward the perifery, he might have been able to more accurately visualize and create a realistic city plan that could possibly have been implemented in a more coordinated way. Clearly, such a plan would have to deal with (at a minimum, St. Louis City and St. Louis County). My suspicion is that he was only authorized to prepare a plan for the city itself.

Population Change (1930–1940)

31 October 2011

Sustainability and the Built Environment

You are invited to attend the exhibition opening at the St. Louis Artists' Guild upcoming on Friday, November 11, 2011 at 6pm.

Take a look at this short video I put together announcing the show and explaining the criteria for the USGBC Missouri Gateway Chapter's selection of awards.

Please share a link to the video with others who would be interested in the event!

09 October 2011

Sarah Paulsen's Anytown

I'm writing about Sarah Paulsen's mini-epic animation dealing with the City of Kirkwood. I encountered the first section of her production entitled, "Act I – Anytown" at the Critical Mass Creative Stimulus group exhibition (curated by Sarah Colby) held at the Regional Arts Commission gallery in August and September.

I was immediately drawn to the sprawling collage of elements situated in the southeast corner of the gallery opposite the glass entry doors. It featured a swirling montage of images, backdrops, abstract elements and multifarious materials. The tableau was grounded on the walls themselves on which the artist had drawn, painted, colored and pinned numerous images. Included were cuttings from color magazines, hand painted buildings and settings, three-dimensional figurines, string, rope, fabric and many other elements creating a rather hypnotic, almost psychedelic effect.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
As I began to inspect these collaged parts, I began to notice recognizable structures that were well know to me at least. A Target store was prominently situated along the axis of a downtown American main street with post office, restaurants, train station, churches and other buildings typically found in midwestern towns and cities. As I looked closer, I realized the train station included was the iconic stone building in downtown Kirkwood. "Perhaps just a coincidence," I thought.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
I was working on trying to piece together what this tableau was addressing. While the overall visual imagery was playful and fanciful, there was a solid grounding in a very real place, one that I feel strongly connected to . . . and I began to wonder what this was all about. At that point, I had no idea that the materials displayed on the walls had any relation to the video playing in the little mini-theater set up nearby.

However, once I noticed pedestrians looking up at the spire of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, I realized that this representation didn't just have some elements borrowed from Kirkwood, it actually was a re-creation of the city itself although in an unfamiliar configuration.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
I explored the composition, following string, thread, rope and paint from one scene to another. I came across seemingly generic images of suburban America. Comfortable green neighborhoods with grand homes, automobiles, children at play and an abundance of flowers. The striking cloverleaf located above the overview of a residential street grid suggested a kind of controlling mandala that kept the energy of the community flowing through the veins of the streets. Being green and having four quadrants, it was also reminiscent of an actual leaf of clover suggesting a grounding of the community in nature and landscape (if only abstractly and distantly).

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
Dividing the scenes were rather abstract sections that seemed curious in their materiality. The juxtaposition of flat two-dimensional representations with these physical things created a sense of disjunction that seemed to destroy the ability to impose a coherent narrative structure or sequential pattern in the layout of these collaged elements.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
Small child-like figures were suspended from thread by clothes pins in the corner. At once, Vladimir Tatlin's Corner Relief of 1915 came to mind while I stared curious and inquisitive into these Sears catalog types of happy figures. The idyllic aspect of the suburbs was abundant in the scenes of happy family life, joyful childhood summers and luscious, well-tended gardens.

The most powerful part of the animation is the story of the families picking up their children for ballet and the kids all going in different family's minivans. The story, and your delightful depiction of it, touched my heart. That is the kind of essence of trust and goodwill that is at the center of what makes Kirkwood special.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
A sense of naivete suffused the work, yet it was clearly the product of someone with some very definite thoughts and intentions. Was this meant to be a critique of the suburb as a kind of utopian community without strife and loss? As I considered this question, I began to notice small suggestive details that indicated we were not quite in paradise, such as the "For Rent" and "For Lease" signs depicted in some of the vacant storefronts.

Throughout my examination of this display, I kept hearing deep tones of voices muffled but suggestive. I found it a bit hard to focus my attention on the work that had initially grabbed my attention because so many people were grouped around the table display positioned nearby. I took a look to see what was drawing people's interest there assuming it was another artist's presentation.

As I stood and looked over the shoulders of those gathered around, I realized that some of the images included in the animated film being projected in this mini theater featured some of the elements I'd just been examining on the walls. I gradually pieced together that these displays were both parts of a larger whole and began to try to listen more closely to the audio track to no avail.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
Once I was able to get to a spot where I could see the video I started to get a better sense for how the characters and the scenery displayed on the wall were being used to tell a story. That night at the gallery opening, I could only hear the timbre of the voices and sounds on the soundtrack, but couldn't really discern their content. In a way, this made the experience all the more powerful for me, since I had to fill in the audio track with a narrative of my own making.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).

The conversations of those attending the gallery opening caught my attention, particularly when I heard someone mention Connie Karr. Now this whole presentation began to take on a different aspect entirely. Perhaps it was intended to comment on the recent turmoil, violence and conflict that had cropped up in my city (viz. 'Cookie' Thornton's February 2008 shooting at Kirkwood City Hall).

Once I returned to the collaged elements on the wall, I then noticed the small, empty stage set emblazoned with, "Connie Karr for Mayor." This gave me pause. I realized she did in fact intend to take on those difficult events. This put my appreciation and understanding of your intentions into a completely different realm. At that moment something deep in the pit of my stomach fell and realized that there was something of a fairly serious nature being addressed by these playful, engaging images, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. (I only later realized the image was likely based on a display at the Greentree Festival and not a proscenium decorated for a political rally).

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's animation props for Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
I returned to the video projection which was a bit difficult to view because the projector was located within one building and the movie screen was situated on the facade of another building. This set up imposed a particular scale and limited the number of people who could reasonably view the animated images being projected.

I patiently waited while the film looped until I could move up to the side of this unusual model theater. Why was it this size? Why couldn't I clearly make out the audio which seemed to include women's voices speaking rather dispassionately about something.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).

All of a sudden I realized the building containing the projector was an abstraction of Kirkwood City Hall and the facing structure suggested the Station Plaza facade across the street. The City Hall was blocky and solid, while the Station Plaza structure seemed to be supported on a kind of scaffolding suggesting a billboard or outdoor drive-in movie.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).

At the gallery opening, I must've watched the animation sequence at least four times through and began to gather a sense about what kind of a story you were trying to tell. While the opening mentions "Anytown" and indicates that it's the first part, I was unclear about the direction in which the story was intended to head.

I began to listen in the conversations going on around your sort of digital version of the Globe Theatre. I heard people mention that your mother was a good friend of Connie Karr and that your project was somehow being done in relation to those painful events in recent Kirkwood memory.

Until that moment, I was seeing what you'd produced as being a pleasant, charming, engaging depiction of suburban life in America, with Kirkwood being given as a local example. I felt the kind of playful fun of Monty Python's animations which tend to end with a giant splat or some unexpected surrealistically complete and sudden change of context.

Examples of Terry Gilliam animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Once I understood that you had some intention of dealing with some of the serious, heavy events in recent Kirkwood history, I started to view your project somewhat differently. I was looking for bits that somehow relate to racial, economic and class divisions. I could find a few insinuations of the that, but I couldn't be sure if I was projecting that onto your work or if they were something that I'd actually "discovered". For example, there's the bit about the country club and the gate which seems to indicate an element of exclusion within the seeming suburban paradise of the American midwest.

Her approach of interviewing people in Kirkwood to fashion an audio track and act as a scaffolding for the narrative and a basis for the imagery is clever and effective.

I determined to return to see the exhibition another time when the gallery was not so crowded and I might be able to hear the audio track. I did revisit the exhibit finding myself even more captivated by the thoughtfully constructed scenes and able to expose the small speakers hidden within the City Hall model so I could hear it more clearly.

Detail of Sarah Paulsen's Anytown, 2011 (photograph by Andrew Raimist).
This posting doesn't come to any substantive conclusions, in part because the work itself seemed open-ended and deliberately incomplete. After all the beginning of the video loop indicated it was, "Act I – Anytown." I now realize that this piece is merely the beginning of a larger project. I look forward to seeing this project develop as Sarah continues to investigate this rich mine of emotions and history.

08 September 2011

On Laskey

Professor Leslie Laskey shocked the hell out of me with his question at my first critique as a student at Washington University's School of Architecture. I'd just finished presenting some conte crayon on newsprint sketches and described the concept for my upcoming project to design a wall in a garden.

After I finished presenting, he exclaimed, "JUST WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?" Into the tense silence, I meekly replied, "Cornell."

"Oh, . . . well, that explains it!"

 ~ ~

That was my introduction to the force know as Laskey. I was never fortunate enough to have him as my professor as he taught the undergraduates, though I did participate in a few of his design salons some years later.

He certainly influenced the direction of my own work, suggesting I take a close look at Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building and its Noguchi ceiling. I'd come to him asking for his advice about how I might pursue my interest in issues relating to the historic preservation of modernist architecture.

Now, at ninety, Laskey's work will be the subject of simultaneous exhibitions at the Bruno David Gallery and at Steinberg Gallery at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The openings will be held tomorrow evening, Friday 9 September 2011 in conjunction with exhibit openings at the Pulitzer and the Contemporary.

Take a look at this wonderful short video by David Wild:

Leslie Laskey: Hinge from David Wild on Vimeo.

01 September 2011

Opening Tonight at Old North St. Louis!

(en)visioning Hyde Park opening :: Thurs., Sept. 1st

Please read and share this notice regarding the upcoming exhibition opening for (en)visioning Hyde Park. The opening will take place tonight,Thursday, September 1st from 6pm to 8pm.

The exhibit is being held at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group's gallery located at :

   2700 N. 14th Street
   St. Louis, Missouri 63106

This very special opening features the work of Hyde Park middle school children who participated in Rebuild Foundation's Urban Expressions program in June and July. Andrew Raimist acted as digital photography instructor and the results of their summer's work will be on display.

The kids receive awards and certificates as well as a book documenting their work over this summer which they accomplished alongside Washington University students in Theaster Gates' CityStudioSTL design-build program.

    Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=238900999484639

You can find out more about the program at:

   http://kck.st/m32Pqu (Kickstarter)

   http://rebuild-foundation.org (Rebuild)

The opening will include food and beverages, a slide show as well as a special collection of cameras spanning over 100 years from the Brownie to the digital point-and-shoot camera's used by the kids.

If you're unable to join us, please share this information on your blog or with your social media contacts.

This project has been generously supported by backers of our Kickstarter grant as well as support from the Missouri Arts Council, Rebuild Foundation and Most Holy Trinity Catholic School. We welcome additional contributions to this worthwhile community arts effort.

If you have any questions about the exhibition, please contact Andrew Raimist:

   phone:    314 / 640 6878
   email:      ALWRaimist@me.com
   blog:        http://AndrewRaimist.com

24 August 2011

(en)visioning Hyde Park exhibit :: Thurs. Sept. 1st

Please read and share this notice regarding the upcoming exhibition opening for (en)visioning Hyde Park. The opening will take place on Thursday, September 1st from 6pm to 8pm.

The exhibit is being held at Old North St. Louis Restoration Group's gallery located at :

    2700 N. 14th Street
    St. Louis, Missouri 63106

This very special opening features the work of middle school children living in Hyde Park who participated in Rebuild Foundation's Urban Expressions program in June and July. Andrew Raimist acted as digital photography instructor and the results of their summer's work will be on display.

The kids will all be given awards and certificates as well as a book documenting their work along with the accomplishments of Washington University students in the CityStudioSTL design-build studio.

You can find out more about the program at:

    http://kck.st/m32Pqu (Kickstarter)

    http://rebuild-foundation.org (Rebuild)

If you're unable to join us, please share this information on your blog or with your social media contacts.

This project has been generously supported by backers of our Kickstarter grant as well as support from the Missouri Arts Council, Rebuild Foundation and Most Holy Trinity Catholic School. We welcome additional contributions to this worthwhile community arts effort.

If you have any questions about the exhibition, please contact Andrew Raimist:

    phone:     314 / 640 6878
    email:      ALWRaimist@me.com
    blog:        http://AndrewRaimist.com

02 August 2011

USGBC – International green Construction Code

Take a look at this short video introduction to the IgCC (International green Construction Code) announcing our local chapter's USGBC meeting next week on Tuesday, August 9th.

Video by Andrew Raimist, 2011.

SPEAKER: Dave Bowman, PE, Manager of Codes for the International Code Council’s Codes and Standards Group. Mr. Bower’s responsibilities include the management of all ICC standards development and the direction and coordination of ICC Staff when assisting or participating in standards development with other organizations. He also maintains the integrity of the referenced standards chapters of the I-Codes and assists code development as the Staff Secretary for the IBC Fire Safety Committee and the IBC General Committee. He provides portions of the IBC Commentary and is involved in the development of the ICC Performance Code.

Submitted for approval of 1 GBCI CE Hour & 1 AIA LU/HSW/SD

Tuesday, August 9, 2011
5:30 – 6:15 pm – Registration & Networking
6:15 – 7:30 pm – Formal Presentation

Ameren Missouri, 1901 Chouteau, St. Louis, MO 63103

Free for USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter Members, ASHRAE – St. Louis Members, MABOI Members, and Full-time Students; $20 for Non-members.

Click here to visit our Event Registration page. Scroll down and click the “Register” button under the International Green Construction Code event listing.

Contact USGBC-Missouri Gateway staff at usgbc-mogateway@mobot.org or (314) 577-0225.

03 July 2011

Hyde Park Update -- Painting

On the Friday before the 4th of July weekend, the Urban Expressions students painted several benches that will be installed in the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church's garden. It was another hot St. Louis summer day, but we worked in the shade and produced some inspiring designs.

Afterwards we enjoyed milkshakes from Crown Candy Kitchen and some basketball. Check out the short video of the event:

27 June 2011

Hyde Park update!

During our second week working with the kids in the Urban Expressions program, we organized the kids in teams to share the cameras we have available. We headed north from their school along Blair Avenue, visiting sites (and looking at and seeing sights) along the way. The range of conditions to be found in the span of a few blocks runs the gamut.

Brick rot

Across the street from the school is a wonderfully restored home with a beautiful cornice. Its fenced yard to protected by several fierce-sounding dogs which coming running as we head up the sidewalk. We smile as we see three cute, curly-haired mutts arrive at the fence.

Next door is a house presently undergoing renovation. Sweaty men are busy hauling debris from its dark, boarded-up interior.

Cornerstone Cafe

At the corner of Blair Avenue and Salisbury Street is the Cornerstone Cafe. The owners are a wonderful family with deep roots in the community. They serve inexpensive, delicious sandwiches. Their patrons range from kids just learning to walk to older men who fondly recall the "good old days". The kids take photos around the simple cafe: the homemade mural of collaged faces, the mounted deep water ocean catch and the patron and servers. Before we leave, the owner offers the kids suckers.

Cornerstone Cafe wall collage

Diagonally across from the cafe is the historic firehouse which has been lovingly restored. It's beige bricks contrast with the dark reddish bricks that comprise most of the neighborhood's buildings.

The old Salisbury Hardware store stares blankly across the intersection encrusted with a patina of texts, graphics and graffiti that suggest something of its history. We're told that renovations of the building should be starting sometime soon.

Salisbury Hardware

A few doors down, there's a solid old duplex being completely restored. Masons have been repairing and tuck pointing the brickwork for several weeks. Windows have started to be installed.

Duplex under restoration

A little farther down the street, a similar structure is missing much of its facing bricks and most of its windows marking a clear contrast to the newly preserved duplex.

Facade with missing bricks

These homes face the historic square green landscape of Hyde Park, one of St. Louis' 19th century open spaces which was originally built in the village of New Bremen, before the area's incorporation into the City of St. Louis. Stories suggest that the open space was named for London's Hyde Park. While some residents believe the park was originally named Bremen Park (after the German city from which many of the area's early residents emigrated), the aerial views prepared by Compton & Dry in 1875 show it as named "Hyde Park".

Pictorial St. Louis -- Compton & Dry, 1875

Their belief that the name was changed from Bremen seems to be based upon the anti-German sentiment that developed during the two world wars. While that story is apocryphal, some of the Cornerstone Cafe regulars recall seeing Nazi's parading through the streets with flags and National Socialist regalia during WWII.

While the park is green and open with mature trees, playground, pavilion and other amenities, it seems underutilized.

Turning on Bremen Street, we find an empty burned multifamily structure that had years ago been painted blue next to a series of vacant lots that appear to have been relatively recently cleared. In the far corner, piles of mulch and compost suggest the existing of a garden in this unlikely locale.

Blue house

We're delighted to find rows of planting in various states of growth and then pleased meet its owner and caretaker, a slender woman with a broad gardeners hat capping her long flowing hair. She patiently answers the kids' rapid-fire questions.

Julie Longyear

"Did you make this garden?"

"Do you really live here?"

"How old are you?"

"Why do you have gray hair?"

"Where's the lettuce? Spinach? Melons?"
She calmly answers them all and even shows us how she hand pollinates the plants she keeps wrapped in lightweight fabric as a barrier to insects. She uses only organic methods in maintaining and developing her garden.

Julie demonstrates pollenating by hand

Hoses are strewn across the alley and around the planting beds to facilitate watering. The start of a circular bed of ornamentals edged in irregular limestone edging is beginning to take shape nearby.

As the heat of the afternoon sun starts to bear down on us, a large black dog barks at us from across the alley signaling our time to leave.

While some of the kids profess an inability to make it all the way back to the school, we do arrive as a group three blocks back toward the south under the shadow of the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church

20 June 2011

(en)Visioning Hyde Park Begins!

Our program has begun! The kids are totally psyched and I've already got them taking pictures. In addition to working with Canon Powershot digital point-and-shoot cameras, each day I bring in a different camera to show them.

The first day they all got to try out my Nikon DSLR. The second day I brought in a Kodak Brownie from the early twentieth century. I explained that fundamentally all of these cameras do exactly the same thing.

We concluded the week with plans for a barbecue and an afternoon creative celebration with volleyball, face-painting, t-shirt screen-printing, portraits and more. Friday's intense storm drove us inside, but didn't dampen our spirits!

I shot everyone's portraits in a makeshift portrait studio set-up. I've edited and posted several to my Flickr photostream.

Urban Expressions

Urban Expressions

We also got a wonderful article published about our program in St. Louis Magazine written by Zakea Boeger. A special shout-out goes to their Arts & Entertainment Editor Stefene Russell who helped make it all possible!

St. Louis Magazine article

And here's a self-portrait taken in the midst of all the action:

Urban Expressions

Thanks again for your support! Please be sure to let others know the deadline for reaching our goal is Wednesday 6 July. If we don't reach our goal by that date, then no money gets donated and we receive nothing. :(