Artist: Nelson Byrd Woltz
Location: St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Year of completion: 2009
Researcher: Laine Bergeson

For 15 years, a two-block swath of land in downtown St. Louis, Missouri sat vacant. The area near Gateway Mall was just idle lawn space, lacking visual interest and human activity.

That all changed in 2009 with the opening of Citygarden, a three-acre park that houses large-scale contemporary sculpture (by some of the world’s most highly regarded artists) and site-specific landscaping that celebrates the region’s ecology. Commissioned by the Gateway Foundation, this sculpture garden and public gathering space, which is free and open to the public 365 days a year, has helped revitalize the downtown area by attracting visitors of all ages and socioeconomic groups.

One of the standout features of the project is its approachability. Children and the young at heart are invited to touch, climb on, and run under (one of the sculptures is a series of 100 vertical jets of water) the artwork. Twenty species of shade trees dot the park and provide escape from the hot summer sun, and a 1,150-foot-long seat wall weaves through a garden of perennial and shrub plants. A glass café sits high up on one of the park’s bluffs. The project’s aim, says Carol Cordani, an administrator at the Gateway Foundation, is to inspire visitors to appreciate public art and urban spaces, and to develop community. “In short, Citygarden appeals to every segment of society,” says Cordani. “It is a profoundly democratic space.”

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The landscape architect Nelson Byrd Woltz designed the garden in a way that explores, mirrors, and celebrates the area’s natural history and ecology. A series of rain gardens helps treat the site’s storm water; three distinct ecological precincts within the park—River Bluffs, Flood Plains, and River Terrace—reflect their natural occurrence in and around St. Louis; and a 550-foot long wall of Missouri limestone evokes the nearby river bluffs. Regionally native plants also help connect the park and its visitors to the local geography.

Appreciation for the park has helped spur reinvestment in the surrounding neighborhoods. “The project has revived civic spirit, pride, and optimism,” says Cordani. She adds, Citygarden is fomenting the development of other projects in the area, including renovation plans for the Arch and Riverfront areas. In 2011, Citygarden was recognized with the Urban Land Institute’s Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award as a catalyst for development.

Over 20 highly regarded artists, including Fernand Léger, Mark di Suvero, Keith Haring, Martin Puryear, Jim Dine, Tony Smith, and Aristide Maillol, created pieces for the project. Their work elevates the park from a public gathering space to a destination in its own right. Citygarden has also generated renewed interest in the monumental Richard Serra sculpture, Twain, which sits adjacent to the new sculpture garden.

Citygarden has helped transform a long-dormant part of St. Louis by being both accessible and aesthetically pleasing. “Its spirit and character are disarming and friendly,” says Cordani. “And, despite the place’s stunning beauty, entirely unpretentious.”

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency