An interactive environment where students and visitors to the Grand Center Arts District can gather and engage with the activity of the surrounding community.

Working in collaboration with Land Collective, Grand Center, Inc., and the Grand Center District’s constituents, our team led the design of the Arts Academy Plaza, a new public parklet on Grand Avenue. Arts Academy Plaza is one of the keystones of the Growing Grand Plan which strives to turn 30 acres in the heart of Saint Louis’ cultural neighbourhood into a “special event district” and “an epicentre of creativity that serves the aesthetic and economic needs of artists, patrons, tourists and the entire St. Louis community.” The Arts Academy Plaza serves as an anchor project on Grand Avenue and is situated diagonally across from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and adjacent to The Grand Center Arts Academy – an arts school in St. Louis that focuses on dance, orchestra, band, visual arts, choir, and theatre.

Arts Academy Plaza replaces the “Tilted Plane”, an art installation by James Turrell comprised of two sloping planes of lawn. The new design of Arts Academy Plaza creates an interactive environment, providing a variety of impromptu spaces for students, performers, and fans to engage throughout all hours of the day. A series of seating terraces help frame these spaces while mitigating the 4’ grade change that occurs from Grand Avenue to the Grandel Theatre. An amphitheatre and series of harvest tables accommodate larger groups of patrons and provide outdoor dining space for the local eateries beneath the protection of the tree canopy.

All site stormwater runoff within the project boundary is collected and routed to a linear bioswale near Grand Avenue. The location of the rain garden acts as a natural safety barrier between the street edge and ‘The Harvest Grove’. Native plants adourn the ground plane and reach out toward the pedestrian bridge that spans the garden.

The design team led public engagement meetings to facilitate discussion and identify functional program needs of the public and local stakeholders to integrate into the design of the plaza. We also met with students and faculty of the adjacent arts academy school to equip ourselves with additional information regarding educational and performance opportunities to better inform the design, incorporating the day to day needs of the school. The harvest grove and plaza porch were direct design features that materialized from these discussions. There was a need to provide a scheduled and impromptu area for an outdoor classroom, performances and gathering, as well as passive learning and instrument practice for students throughout the warmer seasons.

Providing accessible pathways and seating opportunities for all users was a constant design challenge. The team worked with the City of St. Louis local accessible liaison throughout the project to ensure everyone who visited the plaza would have the same opportunities to experience and move about the space.

The Njinksi Hare installation is a unique element of the project and now a permanent fixture in the Grand Center Arts District. The sculpture stands proudly and playfully at the corner of Grand and Grandel Square, serving as a beacon for passers-by. Sculpted by the late Barry Flanagan, the Gateway Foundation identified this project site as an opportunity to relocate the sculpture from its original location in downtown St. Louis. The team developed several options and design strategies to integrate the sculpture within the plaza.  Ultimately, the plaza was determined as a final resting place for its prominent visual street presence and relationship to the St. Louis Symphony. The concrete base and stone plinths where the sculpture resides were a unique and challenging feature to coordinate with local contractors and consultants. The sculpture plinth is comprised of several large custom hand-cut limestone panels, providing a solid foundation for the Hare and housing the flush-mounted lighting below.  Multiple layouts and lighting mockups were explored at dark to achieve the preferred “spotlighting” effect, ultimately informing the layout and jointing of the stone. The result, a well-lit stage worthy of a never-ending encore that the Njinski Hare sculpture and the Grand Center Arts District deserved.  A brand new identity for a much needed public space.

The transformation of Arts Plaza also helps to reinforce the historic street edge of Grand Avenue. An extensive bioswale collects and treats site stormwater runoff and acts as a buffer from the street to ‘The Harvest Grove’. A series of architectural light poles contribute to the artistic significance of Grand Ave and delicately string together the firefly-like catenary lights, providing a gentle ambience during evening events.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape: Land Collective

Project location: Saint Louis, Missouri, US

Design year: 2021

Year Built: 2018

Project description:



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