Missouri’s Architectural Treasures


You don’t have to go far to find some of Missouri’s gems.

I recently saw an article on a website dedicated to Missouri life. In this article they list the top 50, but I wanted to highlight the top ten. You can see the full list here, if you’d like.

  • 1: Gateway Arch
    11 N Fourth Street, St Louis, Missouri 63102
    Eero Saarinen’s winning competition entry to commemorate the United States’ westward expansion through the Louisiana Purchase is an iconic design—an engineering feat with an inspirational aesthetic form. It is as modern today as when it was conceived sixty-eight years ago. This past October marked the fiftieth anniversary of the installation of the final section of the Arch. The museum and trams to the top were completed later.
    Eero Saarinen wanted to design “a landmark of lasting significance—neither an obelisk, nor a rectangular box, nor a dome seemed right on this site and for this purpose—but at the river’s edge, a great arch did seem right.” His response was a 630-foot-tall stainless steel inverted, flattened catenary arch. The competition’s judges appreciated the design relationship between the Gateway Arch and the Old Court House to the west, noting that Saarinen’s design “by its very form is sympathetic with the Court House dome,” which lines up on an east- west axis with the Arch.
    Construction is now underway to expand the Museum of Westward Expansion toward the Old Courthouse with a new west entrance and a park over the highway to unite the Arch grounds with downtown St. Louis.

2: The Pulitzer Arts Foundation
3716 Washington Boulevard, St Louis, Missouri 63108-3612
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation opened in 2001 after being founded by curator and philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer, who commissioned this masterwork by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando of Osaka, Japan. It was his first freestanding public work in the United States.
Tadao’s design approach favors simplicity, circuitous circulation routes, and controlled views. The Pulitzer Arts Foundation features pristine geometric forms and uncompromising boxes of beautifully finished poured-in-place concrete. It is infused with ritual and a sense of mystery, enhanced expectations, order, and serenity that result in a sanctuary for experiencing art. A central court creates a reflecting pool and a framed view of nature with controlled light reflecting into the museum gallery.
The lower level has recently been renovated to accommodate two new galleries and improved circulation. Changing exhibitions, artistic collaborations, and innovative programs keep the Pulitzer Foundation a vibrant laboratory for the study and appreciation of art.

3: Kraus House
120 North Ballas Road, Kirkwood, Missouri 63122
Frank Lloyd Wright designed this 1,900-square-foot Usonian house in 1951 for artist Russell Kraus and his wife, Ruth Goetz Kraus. Wright intended Usonian houses to provide middle-class Americans with beautiful architecture at an affordable cost. The first in St. Louis, it is one of only five buildings in the state designed by Wright and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Beautifully situated on ten-and-a-half acres of wooded hillside, this home’s interior spaces extend outward under protective overhangs and elevated terraces. Its primary materials are brick, cypress wood, and glass. The interiors retain all of the original Wright-designed furnishings and fabrics.
In 2001, Russell Kraus sold the house to a nonprofit created for the purpose of saving the house. The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, as the group is known, turned over the title of the property to the St. Louis County Department of Parks and Recreation but continues to preserve the house. It is open to the public by appointment.

4: Wainwright Building
111 N. Seventh St., St. Louis, Missouri 63101
When St. Louis brewer Ellis Wainwright needed office space for the headquarters of the St. Louis Brewing Association, he commissioned Louis Sullivan. Sullivan’s design for the 1892 Wainwright Building is considered to be the first expression of the new high-rise building type.
The building gained new life in 1981 when the State of Missouri called for its renovation and expansion into a new state office complex. The result is an exemplary work of urban design by holding the street edge with a balanced addition, which both respects and sets off the Wainwright Building.
The Wainwright Building was featured in the PBS documentary Ten Buildings that Changed America, which presented ten trend-setting works of architecture that have shaped and inspired the American landscape. Frank Lloyd Wright described the Wainwright Building as “the very first human expression of a tall, steel office building as architecture.” With this design, Sullivan realized his theory of modern, office-building design and influenced the visual compositions of future generations of high-rise buildings.

5: St. Louis Abbey—Priory Chapel
500 S. Mason Rd., Creve Coeur, Missouri 63141
Originally designed for a community of Benedictine monks, this remarkable 1962 monastic church both transcends time and is transformational. Architect Gyo Obata conceived the building before Vatican II, and the plan and structure have a clarity and simplicity that impart a unified, uncluttered, and serene place for worship.
The design achieves a balance and synergy between monasticism and modernity. The elegance of structure, simplicity of materials, soft quality of natural light, acoustics for singing and chanting, and central focus on the altar all contribute to the theological heart of worship, whether in community or in quiet contemplation.
Although the Priory Chapel now serves as the church for the parish of Saint Anselm at the St. Louis Abbey, it has remained mostly unchanged for its fifty-four years of service.

6: Thomas Dunn Learning Center
3113 Gasconade St., St. Louis, Missouri 63118
The Thomas Dunn Learning Center is a community institution that educates low-income adults free of charge. The fourteen-thousand-square- foot building was designed by Bill Bowersox in 1990 and contains offices for administration, a library, classrooms, media presentation rooms, and storage and outdoor gardens.
The exterior of the center uses masonry and clay tile to maintain architectural consistency with the park in which it is located. The south side of the building forms a masonry garden wall that runs the full length of the building. The wall also serves as an armature for climbing vines, which create a picturesque backdrop for the much-prized alley of mature pin oaks, and screens the parking lot from the rest of the neighborhood.
It has received numerous awards including the Russell H. Jost Design Excellence Award, the City of St. Louis Urban Design Award, an Honor Award for Design Excellence for the Central States Region American Institute of Architects, and the 2015 Distinguished Building Award from American Institute of Architects-St. Louis.

7: St. Louis Public Library – Central Branch
1301 Olive Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63103
The Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library—the crown jewel of the St. Louis Public Library system—was made possible by a major donation from Andrew Carnegie. Architect Cass Gilbert designed the building in 1907. He also designed the Minnesota State Capitol, the Woolworth Building in New York City, and the United States Supreme Court Building.
The original three-story building was designed in a Beaux-Arts style, referencing the Italian Renaissance palazzo. It featured a ceremonial granite stair, a vaulted reception foyer, and a centrally located Great Hall. The hall is surrounded by five wings—four dedicated to public reading rooms and the fifth, the north wing, to a multistory depository of books that was closed to the public.
In 2012, a $70-million restoration designed by CannonDesign St. Louis increased public space, modernized the library, restored the interiors, and created a dramatic new north entry atrium lobby in the former book stack area.

8: Bolduc House
123 S. Main St, St. Genevieve, Missouri 63670
The most important French Colonial building, the Louis Bolduc House is a prime example of poteaux sur solle (posts-on-sill) construction, which used vertical oak timbers set about six inches apart and infilled with bousillage (a mixture of mud, straw, and horsehair) that hardened to a cement-like texture. Diagonal timbers help provide additional stability for the walls. The steeply sloped roof is covered with cedar shakes and framed with heavy, hand-hewn Norman trusses with mortise and tenon joinery. A porch wraps around the house and provides shade and protection to the living quarters. Windows allow for cooling cross ventilation. A separate freestanding kitchen is located to the rear to help prevent fires starting in the house.
Louis Bolduc, a successful merchant and trader, began constructing the house in 1792 with a large, approximately seven-hundred-square- foot room with a large fireplace for family activities and room for storage above it. In 1793, he added a large hallway and sleeping quarters, about the same size. The sleeping chambers were most likely divided with a wall for privacy.
A perimeter stockade fence and gardens have been reconstructed on the site. This meticulously restored home is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark.

9: Joplin Union Depot
Broadway and Main St., Joplin, Missouri 64801
Although Joplin Union Depot has been vacant for years, it is one of renowned architect Louis Curtiss’s most important surviving buildings, both for its architecture and engineering.
In January 1912, Popular Mechanics made note of the station for its use of flint and limestone tailings from mining waste piles in the concrete mixture. Having served a number of railroad lines, it was in operation from July 1911 to November 1969, when the last train, the Southern Belle, visited the station. The station has slowly deteriorated since then. The Joplin Union Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

10: First Community Church
2007 E. Fifteenth St., Joplin, Missouri 64804
R.L. Fischer & Associates designed this modern church in 1960. In a design statement at the American Institute of Architects St. Louis Chapter Awards Program that same year, the architects wrote: “The site is a narrow triangle surrounded entirely by streets. Because of budget limitations the construction is simple and straightforward. The entire design of the building is intended to exclude the distractions of the outside and make the entire building a quiet sanctuary. The large forecourt at the entry to the sanctuary turns the church into its own property, affording a dignified approach to the worshipper.”
The plan grows out of the building site, resulting in a simple, direct, and elegant design. The First Community Church was severely damaged by the Joplin tornado of 2011. However, it was renovated with some changes in 2012.

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