St. Louis has character. St. Louis is full of characters.
Since the frenetically baroque Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 positioned St. Louis as the next great American city, architects and politicians have treated the city as a testing ground for civic identity. Policies have fluctuated between preservation and eminent domain. Incentives have prioritized both urban flight and urban renewal. The city’s built institutions have woven a transhistorical web of borrowed symbols—from the Diocletian vaults of the Art Museum to the Chateauesque peaks of City Hall.
This agglomeration of abandoned potentials and one-off experiments forms an urban legibility based not on clarity or style or form, but on common character. St. Louis becomes a collection of micro-expressions, individual buildings— characters—each with their own psychological associations and symbolic meaning in relation to their functions and history. They overlap sometimes. They share references and meanings. They paint a hazy, disjointed picture of St. Louis’s fraught history that never quite forms a whole.
This project, a library and public archive on the site of the historic Lemp Brewery, seeks a new institutional identity for a city whose recent resurgence can be attributed more to the will of its citizens than to the top-down interventions that formed it. Building on methods of character animation and animate architecture from Chuck Jones to Greg Lynn and beyond, this new library attempts to reflect the animate, charged heterogeneity of the city’s institutions while proposing a new empathetic character and potential future for the city.