24 February 2012

Hyde Park :: book reading, 2

On Friday 24 February at 5:30pm I'll be presenting material in connection with the Hyde Park photography work now on display at the Gya Community Arts Gallery. I'll be reading from my book documenting the program, (en)visioning Hyde Park. I've set up a Facebook event with full details.

(en)visioning Hyde Park, © Andrew Raimist.
The photographs by Andrew Raimist are presented as a single piece consisting of five horizontal bands of joined images with the title: 5 sentences about Hyde Park (do not a paragraph make). The alternating rows of images bring together images of the children, teachers, college students, volunteers and adults who are committed to improving the neighborhood conditions. The rows between these informal portraits are composed of architectural photographs in series documenting buildings in the area.

5 sentences about Hyde Park (do not a paragraph make), © Andrew Raimist.
The idea behind the title is to make clear that any documentation of Hyde Park is bound to be fragmentary, partial and biased. While I've attempted to create a realistic, authentic portrait of a community in fashioning the exhibition and publication, these efforts are clearly informed by my own personal preferences and constitute a narrative structure that I've inevitably imposed. Others will dispute the impressions created as being too sunny and optimistic or too harshly depressing. I've attempted to maintain a balance based upon my own perceptions and preconceptions (visually and intellectually) to offer an unvarnished picture of the area through my own eyes. I hope my own images offer some semblance of the honesty and directness with which the children approached documenting the area and each other.

Carnegie Library, © Andrew Raimist.
I cannot deny my fascination with historic architecture and with the tragic sense of loss embodied in collapsing buildings. I find them compelling sources for developing a sense of history and for constructing a narrative of the lives lived and lost in those architectural frames. Likewise, I find restored buildings of grandeur like the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church to be inspiring and uplifting.

Gateways, © Andrew Raimist.
The architectural photographs I've included in the piece range from historic, well-preserved structures like the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church and the Bissell Point Water Tower, to the dilapidated buildings scattered throughout the neighborhood and buildings in various states of repair and renovation. These are all very real and present.

Living with collapse, © Andrew Raimist.
There is the beginnings of a renaissance presently under way in the neighborhood. A whole series of historic brick masonry buildings are undergoing renovation including the old Salisbury Hardware Store located at the corner of Salisbury and Blair. The once proud building with its mansard roof and dormers is now being gutted and will become a new center of business and street life at a critical intersection adjacent to Hyde Park.

Firewall, © Andrew Raimist.
The other corners of this intersection are anchored by important neighborhood icons: Firehouse No. 8 marking the entrance to the park itself, Hyde Park Antiques and the Cornerstone Cafe. These buildings are touchstones for the neighborhood, not just architecturally, but culturally and economically. The history of the area is discussed in my book which includes the 19th century Compton & Dry aerial rendering juxtaposed to a more recent aerial photograph (courtesy of the world wide web) of the corresponding area. The rural nature of the surroundings shown in the aerial drawing relates favorably to the openness of the land now exposed by the loss of built fabric in recent decades.

Salisbury Hardware undergoing renovation (exterior & interior), © Andrew Raimist.
While the loss of buildings is tragic (especially in cases like the recently demolished Turnverein Hall), there are opportunities the open land affords that would not otherwise be possible in a densely settled urban setting. These include providing locations for the construction of new homes and other development opportunities. The Bethlehem Lutheran Evangelic Church community has been instrumental in supporting the construction of new homes in the area which clearly meet a need in the market.

Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church, © Andrew Raimist.
Urban pioneers like businesswoman Julie Longyear and artist Mark Pappas are establishing new infrastructure and creating a renewed sense of community in spaces previously vacated. Julie operates Irie Star and Blissoma brand natural skincare products from her home which specializes in natural, organic skin care products and is creating an organic garden on vacant land previously occupied by decaying brick homes. Mark Pappas is working to found the Hyde Park Art Center in the historic Divoll Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. The monumental brick and stone building which is visible from Highway 70 is a majestic, proud work of architectural art and an important part of the neighborhood's history. Mark is spearheading the restoration of the building which may well take the rest of his lifetime.

Mark Pappas and his Carnegie Library, © Andrew Raimist.
My experiences working in the neighborhood have been instructive for me in understanding the relationship of children, families, schools, churches, community groups, city government and private developers. These are all essential ingredients for the holistic renewal of the area.

Twice Burned, © Andrew Raimist.
I hope this exhibition and the accompanying book will help to spur further interest in the Hyde Park, to give residents and visitors historical and cultural context and to promote future growth and development. There are clearly many serious challenges facing the community, but with so many people caring a great deal about the area, there are bound to be more positive developments.

Terracotta Ornament, © Andrew Raimist.

23 February 2012

(en)visioning Hyde Park :: book reading, 1

On Friday 24 February at 5:30pm I'll be presenting material in connection with the Hyde Park photography work now on display at the Gya Community Arts Gallery. I'll be reading from my book documenting the program, (en)visioning Hyde Park, funded in part through an online crowd-sourced Kickstarter grant. You can see the original Kickstarter project page here: http://kck.st/m32Pqu.

Book cover (front, back and spine)
The exhibition of photography by middle school kids from Hyde Park was first exhibited at the Old North St. Louis gallery in fall 2011. The exhibit was supported by a grant from the Missouri Arts Council.

The exhibition on display at Gya / Yeyo Arts Collective (2700 Locust Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63103) also includes enlarged portraits of the children taken by Andrew Raimist as part of the global arts initiative: Inside Out Project. This effort was initiated by a street artist who goes by the name JR and was funded through his being awarded the TED Prize last year.

You can see examples of individuals and groups from across the globe who participated in the InsideOutProject at their website. Contributors were encouraged to take black and white portraits of people and upload digital files of the images to the InsideOutProject site. In return, they would print and send out portraits at approximately 48" high x 36" wide using a dot matrix algorithm. Each portrait includes a web page address corresponding to the image posted online.

Portraits from the InsideOutProject displayed in Gya's storefront windows.
The portraits were to be displayed publicly in the community from which they came. The project's intentions related to expressing ideas about humanity, society, individual lives and how people are empowered to show their care and love for one another and for the world. The public display of the photographic portraits were then documented (again photographically) and uploaded so they can to be shared with others visiting the InsideOutProject website.

You can see examples, of these portraits below along with their display in the storefront windows at Gya. The dimensions turned out to be excellent given the dimensions of the glazing on the historic storefront in the new downtown Locust Business District located just north of the Wells Fargo complex at Market Street and to the west of Jefferson. The portraits bring a sense of life, joy and innocence to the streetscape that is in the midst of revitalization.

The exhibition also includes photographs taken by instructor, photographer and architect Andrew Raimist. He taught digital photography to the students in Hyde Park under the auspices of Rebuild Foundation's Urban Expressions program in connection with the Most Holy Trinity Catholic School located at Mallinckrodt and Blair. The program is directed by Artist-in-Residence Dayna Kriz without whose support and encouragement this project would not have been possible.

Letter from Mendelsohn

The following short video features a reading of a 1952 letter architect Eric Mendelsohn wrote to a student wishing to study architecture in the United States. His comments relate his advice against attending Harvard's Graduate School of Design and encouragement to attending the University of California at Berkeley (where Mendelsohn was teaching at the time).

The student is from Cyprus in the Mediterranean. Mendelsohn also references strife and political tensions in the area as well as the benefits and dangers involved in returning to his homeland to practice architecture.

20 February 2012

Hyde Park :: faces & places – opening

The Gya Community Arts Gallery is presently exhibiting photography from Hyde Park from the (en)visioning Hyde Park program. The images on display include work by the middle school students involved in the program as well as a photographic presentation by their instructor Andrew Raimist.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.
The exhibit opening was well attended by the children and their families as well as others in the St. Louis arts community. The joy and pride of the kids was evident, seeing their work displayed in the gallery located at 2700 Locust.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.
Seeing parents along with their children made the event special. The kids' excitement about the Urban Expressions program, sponsored by Rebuild Foundation, was clear. Younger brothers and sisters were asking if they might be able to participate this program next summer.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.

Many of the kids posed alongside their work or next to their portraits. A series of enlarged portraits are hanging in the storefront windows of Gya's gallery facing north onto Locust and east onto North Beaumont. These portraits were taken by photography instructor Andrew Raimist and enlarged as part of the global arts initiative InsideOutProject funded through a TED grant to the French artist JR. The project solicited portraits from communities the world over and printed them at 48" high x 36" wide to be displayed publicly as street art.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.

Their pride in seeing their faces enlarged and displayed in Gya's gallery in downtown St. Louis was heartwarming. This public display seemed to help validate their worth as artists with a voice and an opinion about the future of our city.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.

The program was sponsored directly by Rebuild Foundation through their Urban Expressions effort and by Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, a critical visual and spiritual anchor of the Hyde Park neighborhood for generations.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.
One of the catalysts for the program's success has been the Community Arts Training (CAT) Institute developed by the Regional Arts Commission. Andrew Raimist and Gina Martinez were two artists working with Rebuild who were CAT graduates from 2011. Dayna Kriz (Rebuild's Director) and Mallory Nezam are present members of the Institute.

Photograph © Aaron Raimist 2012.

The program was also supported by members of Women's Voices Raised for Social Justice who published some of the children's photographs in a special section of their website entitled North of Delmar, helping to raise awareness of the physical and social conditions existing today in Hyde Park.

18 February 2012

Blast from Hyde Park's Past

I have recently been waxing nostalgic for an event I did not attend. In 1983, the Saint Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects held their second design charrette. The focus was the historic Hyde Park Neighborhood and addressing the abandoned Krey Packing Plant which covered three blocks immediately adjacent the Park itself.

At the time,Vince Schoemehl was the mayor, Betty Lou Custer, FAIA was the chapter's Executive Director and the chapter's logo was a line drawing of the Arch superimposed over the silhouette of Eads Bridge.

The charrette drew 83 participants who submitted 30 design schemes for the nine-acre site. The event took place at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. It was done in association with the Hyde Park Renovation Effort, Inc. (HYPRE) and Hyde Park Partnership. I'm not sure if those groups still exist.

Logo and letterhead of the local AIA from the early 1980s

The jurors were Ian McHarg, FASLA (Chair, Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania), Rodolfo Machado (Head, Department of Architecture, Rhode Island School of Design) and Jonathan Barnett, FAIA (Director, Graduate Program of Urban Design, City College of New York).

Jurors Barnett, Machado and McHarg with Advisor Malcic.

The professional advisor for the effort was Lawrence Malcic, AIA (now Design Director at HOK London) who at that time was the Assistant Dean for Planning and Development in the School of Business of Washington University in St. Louis.

Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of house with dormer.

So why am I nostalgic over an event that I didn't even attend? At that time, I did not live in Saint Louis and had never visited here. I was an undergraduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and had no idea that I might end up living in the Midwest. I didn't move here until 1985 when I started graduate studies in the School of Architecture led by Dean Constantine Michaelides, FAIA.

Planning document for design charrette participants outlining the study area.

Only in my final years of graduate school did I read a handwritten invitation on the blackboard which normally stood at the center of Givens Hall asking students to join a committee to work on a design charrette focused on Forest Park. I responded, joined the committee as the only student member and made many good friends. The chair of the Charrette Committee was Doris Danna, FAIA who impressed me with her thoughtful, considerate way of speaking. She was a dynamo and brought together disparate professionals and affiliates to work on this community design effort. For the Forest Park Charrette, the lead juror was Dan Kiley who I had the good fortune of meeting.

Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of St. Michael on Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

Reading through the materials from the Hyde Park Charrette brought back a strange kind of memory echo, where I could hear distant voices speaking about an esteemed event from history. I never really knew anything about Hyde Park except that it was an historic neighborhood struggling to reinvigorate itself.

Notices regarding Hyde Park community events.

All of the materials and records were typed using an IBM Selectric typewriter using the popular sans-serif font that I imagine was preferred by architects of the time. The document documenting the event is illustrated by beautiful lines drawings of the historic architecture of the area by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco (not an architect).

In the instructions to the designers there's a remark with regard to music to the effect that, "Radios, except headsets and 'Walkmans' are discouraged."

The remarks from the juror's review of the designs are fascinating. They reflect on the differences in time and sensibility over the last 25+ years. I'm not sure how many people today would have agreed with Barnett's comment, "Most schemes did not try to reuse the existing buildings, and this is probably wise." He then goes on to refer to the schemes for a community college, high school, bath house and a regional shopping mall.

Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I'm wondering how many deans of schools of architecture today would say that they would focus their comments on the architecture "because he is not knowledgeable about economics." (Machado) He comes back to terms like clarity, simplicity and strong form.

McHarg was clearly quite a character and more blunt in his criticism. He seems to question the basic assumptions of the charrette itself suggesting that they establish a firm program and then repeat the event based on having more substantive details. He suggests that one of the schemes "should be dynamited . . . similar to the worst of the 60's. Too much richness of ideas." He also remarks that the park should be rethought, he wouldn't like to see any major changes to it, but it should be kept "rape-proof". He does offer compliments for the existing rehabilitation he sees in the neighborhood, telling the residents that "they are doing it right [and] their work should good taste and restraint." So does that suggest he thought some of the architect's schemes didn't show the same attitude toward the existing historic fabric?

Ink rendering by Hyde Park resident Victor Migneco of house on Blair.

Someone made a recording of remarks made by Hyde Park residents giving their thoughts on "What should be done with the Krey site?" Some of the more colorful quotes include:
"We should make a nightclub and call it the 'Slaughterhouse'."

"It's such a big ugly building."

"We definitely don't need a junkyard there."

"Tear that sucker down."

"Blast it out of there. Anything that would make it better than it does now. I have no idea honestly . . . . I don't think we need more housing because we have a lot of great houses to deal with. Business doesn't thrill me, but I guess it would be good for my business."

"Something like they did in San Francisco, Ghiadelli Chocolate Works (or something like that) with a lot of shops and boutiques."

"It should be turned into a tourist place for people to come and explore . . . what the meat places in St. Louis put out."

"A Schucks. Put a grocery store in."
The program documents are incredibly detailed and thorough in their explanation of the neighborhood's history and urban conditions. The drawn illustrations are marvelous and suggest the potential loss of such skills of visualization that require patience, time and attention to detail. Are such things likely to be encouraged in today's practice of architecture and urban design?

Hyde Park Planning Process Diagram (1983).