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Gazing up at the Gateway Arch, firmly planted on the riverfront in St. Louis, you can’t help but be inspired – by the structure and its story. At 630 feet, it’s the tallest arch in the world and an iconic example of mid-century modern design. It was an architectural and engineering feat – one that skeptics didn’t think possible.
A competition awarded Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen, the opportunity to see his design transformed into a national monument and a symbol of Westward Expansion in the United States. Sadly, he died before it was completed in 1965, but it’s a legacy that lives on. An expansive renovation project, finished in 2018, didn’t alter the gleaming stainless-steel Arch but completely revamped the grounds around it, forging a closer connection to the city and breathing new life into the Gateway Arch National Park.
The Arch is just one of many stunning structures in Missouri that reflect our history, our culture, our geography and a desire for beauty and inspiration in our everyday world.
Here are just a few of the architectural achievements you can see in the Show-Mo State:
Firestone Baars Chapel
The Gateway Arch was not Eero Saarinen’s only design project in Missouri. Students and faculty at Stephens College in Columbia had selected his father Eliel to create a chapel to represent many different faiths. But after Eliel passed away in 1950, Eero was commissioned to design the 300-seat Firestone Baars Chapel. The simple cube-shaped sanctuary is topped by a pyramid shaped roof and spire and includes four vestibule entries reaching out in all directions. The altar sits under a structural wood frame with a central skylight and is surrounded by terraced seats. Stained glass windows and doors illuminate every side of the elegant chapel.
The early French influence in Missouri is in full view in Ste. Genevieve where the Amoureux House provides a well-preserved example of rare French creole post-in-ground (poteaux-enterre) construction used in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The logs that form the walls of the house are set directly into the earth, without a foundation. Only five such structures remain in the United States – and three are located in Ste. Genevieve. The Amoureux House is now part of the Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, established to preserve this early style of architecture and the history of French settlers in Missouri.
Country Club Plaza
The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City opened in 1923 as the first shopping center in the world designed for customers arriving by car. Known for its wide manicured median lined with fountains and statuary, the Plaza was designed with classic European style, specifically like that found in Seville, Spain. The Plaza includes more than 30 statues, murals, tile mosaics and other works of art. Projects for Public Spaces, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to sustaining public places, named the Plaza to its list of “60 of the World’s Great Places.”
Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts
The Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts, completed in 2011, was designed with two soaring symmetrical half shells of concentric arches, contributing a distinctive shape to the Kansas City skyline. The center houses two separate performance venues, the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall and the 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theater, and a shared backstage area. The structure’s multistory lobby with a glass roof and walls offers expansive views of the city’s warehouse and entertainment districts.
The Cathedral Basilica, dedicated in 1914, is a cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church and the spiritual center of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. The Romanesque and Byzantine Revival style structure is known for its beautiful interior mosaics, which took decades to create, using more than 41 million pieces of glass tesserae in more than 7,000 colors. It is said to be the largest collection of mosaics in the Western Hemisphere. Outside the Basilica, the Angel of Harmony, a 14 foot stainless-steel sculpture, conveys a theme of harmony, peace and racial justice.
Missouri State Capitol
Sitting upon a limestone bluff on the south bank of the Missouri River, the Missouri State Capitol dominates the skyline of Jefferson City. Built in 1917, it is the third capitol building to stand in Missouri’s capital city. The dome rises 238 feet above ground level and is topped by a bronze statue of Ceres, goddess of agriculture. The south portico features eight 48-foot columns. Massive bronze doors, each measuring 13 feet by 18 feet, open to a 30-foot-wide grand stairway, believed to be the widest staircase in the world. The Capitol is home an extensive collection of stained glass, murals, carvings and statuary portraying Missouri’s history, legends and cultural achievements, including murals by Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton.
Written by Liz Coleman