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Will Transformed St. Louis Centre Building Succeed Where Old Mall Failed?

Categories: Architecture

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The MX at Seventh and Washington Ave, showing the pedestrian oriented street retail.
Instead of focusing visitors' attention away from the street, the newly rechristened Mercantile Exchange (MX) looks outward, towards Washington Avenue. While the old mall encouraged shoppers to ignore downtown by driving straight into parking garages, new street level retail forces visitors to actually experience street life in St. Louis -- in other words, how shoppers and pedestrians did it for the first 200 years of St. Louis' history. Walking up and down Washington Avenue, the MX appears as a complementary component in the greater urban fabric of downtown.

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600 Washington Ave, with the newly renovated MX surrounding it.
Another successful aspect of the transformation consists of the re-skinning of the tired façade of the old mall, whose upper floors now serve as a parking garage. Rejecting trendy designs, and the ultimately obsolete style of the old mall, Neely's design looks back to Modernism for the upper floors of the old mall and the neighboring lobby of mall's adjoining office tower, 600 Washington Avenue. While many urbanists cried foul when they learned the upper levels of the mall would become a parking garage, Neeley countered that the garage could easily adapt to serve a new purpose in the future. That's encouraging, as parking garages already take up more than their fair share of downtown's landscape. In the meantime, Neely's design hides the parking garage levels adeptly with a shimmery, silver curtain on one side, and large plate glass windows on the other side.

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Courtesy of Forum Studio
The Lobby of 600 Washington Ave, showing the new Modernist interior.

The retrofitting of America's cities back to pedestrian friendly environments will take decades to realize, as the moribund, unfriendly office towers around the MX aren't going anywhere soon. Fortunately, though, Neely and his team at Forum Studio have shown us one example of how we can learn -- and even benefit -- from our mistakes.

Rejuvenating the Urban Fabric -- Designing 600 Washington and the Mercantile Exchange runs through June 7 at Design STL + Creative Exchange Lab, 3307 Washington Avenue.

Chris Naffziger writes about architecture at St. Louis Patina. Contact him via e-mail at naffziger@gmail.com


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