Road trips are a great way to see some of Missouri’s most interesting places – the world’s tallest arch, rare French Colonial homes, the first-ever shopping center and more. Choose a route and set out to discover some of the Show-Me State’s significant architectural achievements.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
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 is the tallest manmade arch in the world and an iconic example of mid-century modern design. The Arch 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 America’s Westward Expansion. Sadly, he died before it was completed in 1965, but his legacy lives on as the stunning centerpiece of the Gateway Arch National Park.
Firestone Baars Chapel
The Arch was not Saarinen’s only design project in Missouri. Students and faculty at Stephens College in Columbia originally selected Eero’s father Eliel to create a chapel to represent many different faiths. But after Eliel passed away in 1950 – before the project began – 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 four directions. The altar, sitting under a wood-framed central skylight, is surrounded by terraced seating. 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 Beauvais-Amoureux House
provides a well-preserved example of 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 still stand in the United States – three of them are located in Ste. Genevieve.
Federal legislation approved in 2018 established the Sainte Genevieve National Historical Park as part of the National Park System to help preserve this rare architecture and interpret the history of French settlers in Missouri.
Country Club Plaza
Dating back to 1923, the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City is considered the world’s first shopping center – a retail area created specifically 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 that build communities, included the Plaza on its list of “60 of the World’s Great Places.”
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, with its two symmetrical half shells of concentric arches, added a distinctive new shape Kansas City’s skyline in 2011. The center houses two 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 complete, 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 on 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 the state’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-tall 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 houses an extensive collection of stained glass, carvings, statuary and paintings, including a mural by Thomas Hart Benton, one of Missouri’s most famous artist
Written by Liz Coleman