SPOKE – ST. LOUIS DESIGN WEEK

Poster and branding for STLDW was created by Carlos Zamora of Kiku Obata.

It was about a year ago that I returned to St. Louis after graduating. Know that there weren’t many jobs out there for recent graduates I thought I might be able to get a leg up on the competition by getting involved. So with that in mind I went to my local AIA office and asked how I could help or if there was anything that I should be doing as a recent grad. The reply I got was more than I ever bargained for but I found out about a few local groups like the Young Architects Forum, Design Speak, among many others. But most important of these were STL Design Week, as I was invited to do an event for AIA from the idea they had. What was the idea? It was an architectural bike tour of the city. Now I haven’t owned or ridden a bike in a few years so my first instinct was, “Sure, why not? How hard could it be.” I had no idea what I was doing or what I had just gotten myself into, but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing because it was one of the best experiences I have had so far.

The entire week was a huge success with nine different events happening across seven days all in the amazing city we call home. We had events that featured anything and everything design, between lectures with award winning chiefs like Gerard Craft that discussed the impact design has on a restaurant to DART, which is an interactive project that you to throw a dart at a board and discover that space over the following month through the art of photography. There was a student competition and industrial design show called FUSION, a functional object show and lecture series put on called FORM. An event named ARTeffect that was a charity auction to benefit a children’s art program run through the Contemporary Art Museum. With the entire week being finished on Sunday morning with the architecture bike tour aptly named SPOKE.

Riding the route with the docents before the day.

So I could take you through the long tedious process that my team and I went through to create SPOKE, or I could just let you know the results. I think for the sake of time and holding your interest we will stick to just the results, as it was a very long process filled with team members stepping away, road blocks with streets departments, new teams members getting caught up, insurance concerns, safety precautions, and trying to find enough docents to make this event a success.

We started the tour at a place called BWorks located in the Soulard neighborhood. I met the amazing people behind this organization in December and when I learned what they do I had to include them in this plan. A brief history of BWorks is that they are a nonprofit organization that host 3 children’s programs that included: book works, byte works, and bike works. Their bike program lasts 5 weeks and teaches the kids bike safety, bike maintenance, and in the end the child earns a bike and a helmet that they can continue to use. The day of the ride we were able to raise a couple hundred dollars in donations, a few of the riders even gave up their old bikes after the ride, or signed up to be a volunteer with one of their programs. Oh did I forget to mention that BWorks receives donated bikes and is run by volunteers? This group is certainly something you need to see to believe, or even better it is a great cause to support.

As your starting to see this wasn’t just about the architecture of St. Louis but also abut the amazing programs and organizations doing work in our community. The second stop along the tour was a new place in town, called Climb So Ill. They are a very outgoing group of guys who had a dream to open the best climbing gym in the Midwest, and personally I think they have done an amazing job and not just from the stand point of the facilities, because the a certainly raising the bar, but because of the passion they have. I was very happy to feature them along the route and show off another adaptive reuse project with a great deal of success. The guys who run the gym know all of their regulars by name and will go out of the way to make sure your are comfortable. Climb So Ill is a great place to check out in St. Louis and a wonderful addition to the tour.

The third stop along the way was the architecture office of Cannon Design. This project was completed only a few years ago, and with it being a private office the opportunity for the public to experience the space is very limited. We received so many compliments about this space because of the quality if light and just the overall work environment that they have been blessed with. Needless to say this space made a lot of people jealous when compared to their office.

 

 

The fourth stop along the tour was a place called the Kerr Foundation. They are a non-profit organization that focuses on education and helping to better the community. This building was selected not only for the organization behind the building, but the structure itself. This building is a LEED platinum building and originally started as a bathhouse many years ago. This stop allowed participants to get up close with various “green” technologies, and the gain a getter understanding of how they can be used. The building utilizes solar and wind power, along with natural light, permeable paving for the parking along with a bio swale and rain garden to collect runoff on site. This was a great place to bring the technical side or sustainability to the tangible and approachable for those touring the facility

The stencils I put down on the streets to mark the course for riders.

In the end the tour had over 150 people involved between the volunteers, riders, and docents leading. There were no accidents or major catastrophes through the day, despite having heavy traffic because of the baseball and football games starting at noon and one. Overall everyone had a good time, enjoyed them selves, and was able to experience a little more of St. Louis than usual. It’s a magical thing that happens when you get on a bike and slow down from your car, you take the time to look around and think about what was there and not just rush by things and take them for granted. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about it, but I have already started to plan for next year, meeting with the docents and people involved and seeing what we can improve for next year. This has been an amazing yearlong journey that allowed me the meet so many tremendous people along the way and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

One of the groups before they departed.

One of the many points of interest along the tour.

The final tour route.

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THE FRONT PORCH

Have you ever wondered what happened to the sense of community we had in our neighborhoods? Do you remember the feelings that were evoked in a time when you could sit on your front porch and see the entire neighborhood? Where the kids would play in the street, and when you could hear from down the block a mother call out “car!” and the children would all step on to the side of the road and wave as the vehicle passed by.  Do you remember when you would invite your neighbors over on a cool summer evening and sit out on the front porch together enjoying a beverage?

I believe we have put so much emphasis lately on sustainability and being environmentally friendly with the systems and materials we are using, but in the process, we have lost focus on the community aspect. What if we cared for our neighbors and the communities we lived in? I believe we have stopped caring, and I think I know when that point was… it was when we traded our front porch for a private back patio.

So what do we do now? We spend our time in our own individual fenced-in yards, with our own personal families, and we occasionally shout across the street to say “Hi” to our neighbors. Builders began to create false porches as a way to create the illusion of community so that we may appear welcoming to those around us. In all reality, how often do we use that little four foot deep porch tacked onto the front of our dream homes covered in vinyl siding? I would venture a guess that we don’t do much on it, that is except for the few minutes we might greet a stranger when they come to knock on our door.

So what is the solution? Is there a solution? Does adding an extra two feet to the slab we pour in front of our homes count as getting back the front pouch we lost? Does an extra two or three feet instantly generate a sense of community, or does it create more impervious surfaces in the world and wasted space we never use? I don’t think just adding a few more feet will create any real change. We as architects have the ability to impact and change the way individuals engage the built environment. We can educate our clients and we can help them to understand what they are buying into when they select model homes and what they thought was the “American dream” of white picket fences and those two cars in the drive way. How much longer can that way of life be sustained? I, for one, would be happy to trade the car for a bike, and the large home for a modest walk up. I know that this is only my perspective and I don’t have a family to raise or any of those concerns, I am simply a young adult alone in the city that can make the statements because these are simply my reflections on the future I can see ahead.

So what has to change to make that all possible? How do we begin to create environments that cater to the public? What if we began creating communities and neighborhoods again that allowed us to walk to our destination, or get on our bike and ride to a friend’s place or the local market? What happens when we stop complaining about the price of gas and start to buy into a sustainable public transportation system that could run efficiently? When will we begin creating spaces that promote mixed use on a regular basis, environments that aren’t restrictive in zoning, and communities that encourage growth? I can see the glimmers of hope on the horizon and the sparks of the ideas taking hold and it leaves me excited for the future, but I hope to see more of this continue.