UMSL's Short-Sighted Plan to Demolish a St. Louis Landmark: Incarnate Word Convent

Categories: Architecture

All photos by Chris Naffziger
The University Libraries on UMSL's campus.
Last week, I examined the 200-year history of the Normandy and Bel-Nor area and its critical link to St. Louis' charitable and architectural legacy. Those proud institutions received a new neighbor just over 50 years ago with the addition of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) campus. Built on the grounds of the former Bellerive Country Club, UMSL's professors held the school's first classes in the clubhouse. As finances improved, new buildings began to rise on the rolling land of the former golf course.

UMSL faced daunting building needs as the campus grew in population throughout the 1960s and '70s; the university turned to Brutalism, a style of modernist architecture popular in the 1960s. Taking its named from the French béton brut, meaning "raw concrete," Brutalist architecture featured huge swaths of poured concrete and hard, angular designs -- perfect for the cost-conscious. While Brutalism has its defenders, most people find its stark style of architecture to be cold, unapproachable and fortresslike. In fact, many universities, including Washington University, have begun tearing down their Brutalist-style buildings.

The UMSL campus.

Brutalism dominates the center of UMSL's campus, reflecting the relative youth of the university. And, frankly, the buildings fail aesthetically. Torn between poured concrete and red brick, they attempt to be both modern and traditional; consequently, they are neither. Fortunately, the campus plan from 2013 seeks to abandon this strange Brutalist mess and move toward more forward-looking architecture. But a great university campus, one that stirs a prospective student's imagination when taking a tour, does not just need new buildings. It also requires architecture that reflects a sense of continuity and at least some tradition.

The former Marillac College, now UMSL's South Campus.
Enter the historic convents and other structures built by various religious institutions which dominated the Normandy area for the last century. The old Marillac College, with its stately Gothic province house and early modernist additions, provides just such a sense of history and continuity. UMSL has wisely (at least for the time being) chosen to incorporate the historic structures of the old Marillac College into its South Campus.

The former Daughters of Charity, preserved as part of UMSL's South Campus.

Unfortunately, the university has failed to be so forwarded-thinking in its quest to tear down the Incarnate Word Convent, a.k.a. Normandie Hall.

Continue to see why Normandie Hall needs your help.

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Kyle, we can assure you it's not haunted! It's an amazing building - full of natural light - and the only spirits around are the happy memories of students from both Incarnate Word Academy and UMSL's Pierre Laclede Honors College at UMSL!


Kochin's comment "can you smell the mold?" is indicative of negligent management of State-owned facilities.  Supposedly, the mold came about as a result of burst water pipes in a building left unheated over the Winter. 

Any "Facilities Manager" and anyone with common sense knows if a building's heat is turned off over the Winter, the first thing done is to shut off the water and drain the plumbing system. Sounds like a deliberate plot to justify the demolition and elected State Officials should be investigating this all-too-obvious plot !  Where are they and why are they not weighing-in on this damage ?  We should be demanding answers....


Unfortunately this plan to tear down Normandie Hall (the old Incarnate Word convent) is consistent with UMSL's complete disregard for history.  Both its own and the surrounding community.

The picture of the University Libraries at the top of the article shows a large empty space just to the south (closer to the camera) of the building.  This was the sight of the Bellerive Country Club clubhouse and the building at which UMSL's very first classes met.  It was torn down in 1977.  The justification, cost to renovate, same as being used to tear down the old IW convent.

Most, if not all, colleges and universities will go to great length to save their original buildings. The fact that UMSL demolished its own goes a long way to explaining why they have no problem with demolishing a building acquired later on.

One local resident wrote a letter to the chancellor protesting the proposed demolition.  In his letter of reply (and I do give him credit for replying instead of just ignoring her) he justified it by listing all of the other buildings in the area, including the old clubhouse, that the university has demolished.  To put it simply; two wrongs may not make a right but they do set a precedent and under that precedent the old IW convent has to go.  That is the UMSL view.

Mary Struttman
Mary Struttman

Old don't tear it down. Don't u have any respect for history or architecture?


The style is brutalist alright and brutal is a good way to describe the university's expansion methods.  They only want the good neighborhoods around them and they don't give a crap about what makes these neighborhoods vibrant and successful in an otherwise dismal region.  They definitely don't need any more space.

It is shameful to use taxpayer money to destroy a nice place to live and raise a family.

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