Pushing The Envelope

This new art museum in St Louis is conceived as a flexible shell for experiment that reaches out to its surroundings.

location plan

Contemporary art museum, St Louis, Missouri, USA

Architect Allied Works

Meet me in St Louis, Louis, meet me at the Fair', sang Judy Garland, and the city is celebrating the centenary of that high point in its fortunes, even as it struggles - like so many others in the Midwest -to regenerate its battered core. Progress has been made since Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch was built on the banks of the Mississippi in 1968, and the Grand Center Arts District at the edge of downtown has recently acquired two small but potent gems: Tadao Ando's Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum by Allied Works Architecture. They occupy neighbouring sites and conduct a lively dialogue across a shared courtyard dominated by a Richard Serra torqued steel sculpture.

What's remarkable is how well these two radically different buildings complement each other visually as well as in purpose. The Pulitzer, which opened two years ago, is a signature work by Ando in the finest in-situ concrete. It has the air of a spiritual retreat: refined, serene, and inward-looking; a place for solitary contemplation of twentieth-century masterworks from the Pulitzer collection, which is open by appointment two days a week. In contrast, Allied Works principal Brad Cloepfil designed the new museum as a flexible shell for experimentation in the visual arts, and programmes that reach out to the depressed neighbourhood and the general public. Concrete walls are clad in tightly woven stainless-steel mesh, and expansive windows open up views from street to courtyard. Galleries for changing exhibitions occupy a quarter of its 2500 sq m; the rest are given over to a large performance space, an education centre and café, plus upstairs offices and classrooms. The building cost only $6.5 million, substantially less than its neighbour.

Thanks to the generosity of Emily Pulitzer and other patrons, the CAM has moved far beyond its modest beginnings in a downtown storefront, and it selected Allied Works from a shortlist that included Herzog & de Meuron, Rem Koolhaas, and Peter Zumthor. It was a prescient choice, for Cloepfil has since won acclaim for prestigious

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