Steedman Fellowship Winner

Steedman Fellowship Winner in St. Louis, Missouri by Fabio Oppici, 2000

The following is the winner of the 2000 James Harrison Steedman Traveling Fellowship in Architecture, Fabio Oppici of Rome, Italy. Click here to read an excerpt from the competition brief.

The winning scheme for a new Museum of American Architecture strongly addresses one of the program brief's main issues: reconnecting the city of St. Louis and the Mississippi, while ignoring others (the possibility of a symbolic vocabulary for museums and the relationship between artwork and container, for example). Essentially the solution is a tube wrapping Interstate 70, which now inhabits a trench that severs the arch and its park from downtown, with program spaces pushed underground. This tube stitches together the park and the city at street level as a pedestrian landscape not disturbing the visual axis between the Courthouse and the Arch. Underground the tube becomes an object as the ground around it is excavated; the left over space becoming program space and circulation.

The strongest aspect of the design is the relationship to its site. Given a 200' x 1200' rectangular area occupied by I-70 any reconnection must deal with the highway, the adjacent streets and parks on both sides of the trench, in regard to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Oppici's solution successfully addresses all three in one grand/subtle gesture (though pedestrians still must navigate adjacent streets to reach the new artificial landscape above I-70). With this gesture the scheme is more a landscape than a building, while below it is a building constantly referring to itself, exploring dialectics existing in architecture and its history (inside/outside, above/below, solid/void).

Indicative of the designer's dismissal of any symbolic vocabulary for a museum, only subtle light wells indicate the existence of the museum spaces below, though these narrow slots are slight hints at exhibition spaces, which require diffused overhead lighting. The fact that this solution could apply to almost any program (mall, library, other types of museums) testifies to a gulf that exists between urban planning and architecture. While the former looks at a city in terms of traffic, use and other practical considerations it is the latter that gives form to the individual parts of a city, makes them comprehensible. This viewpoint may be outdated, though, as more and more architecture aspires to blur the distinctions between architecture, planning, landscape and even art.