UPDATE: MVVA Does Play to Win the Game

So a day after writing this, the jury announced that MVVA does in fact play to win the game, so much so that they won the Arch Ground Competition. Great, here come bird watching museums and aquatic research centers. I forgot for a second I was in the conservative, middle ground of America. The SOM or Benisch schemes would fly on the coasts. PWP would fly nowhere but I thought Weiss Manfredi might edge MVVA. I guess not. It's not the worst scheme, but its not the best. I guess that's the point. Well St. Louis, I can say I am as excited for this as I am for a dental cleaning. A bit of a wet blanket. 

I'll follow with my final lame duck review of the Benisch scheme in the morning. 


America, F*CK YEAH

So I recently went on a road trip, helping my good friends Jamie and Jason Buchensky move all their worldly possessions down to Austin, Texas. 850 miles and 14 hours of road tripping to be exact. Enough time for me to ponder a few things and to get brazenly sentimental about the good old US of A. America, Fuck Yeah. Thanks Trey Parker you uncle sam-loving- mothafucka. So here are a few things I came up with. What'chu got?

1) Football - Last week was opening week in the NFL. Pure heaven. Greedy investment bankers, electrical union workers and butt-crack exposing construction workers finally have something to look forward to all week. I gotta say, I look forward to Sundays more than ever. A true religion. Yeah those hooligans across the pond have soccer every weekend but I'm betting our football tradition trumps theirs just like everything else we do. Jamie, Jason and I went to The Tavern in Austin. The beer was cold, the HD was crisp and the waitresses were straight out of a UT sorority. Dun-dun-dun duhhhhhh.

2) Roadtrips - I've driven all over this fine country of ours many times, north, south, east and west. The open road is an American institution owing to our love of cars and the vast expanse we stole from the Native Americans and the French. Really, we could build a high speed rail network like Europe, but what fun is that? Packing up the car, flipping on the shades and hitting the road for a full day of driving just feels good. For Booch and Jason, every mile we gobbled up was one mile closer to their new life and one mile farther away from their old one. Ahh roadtrips. 

3) Extremes - Jogging around Lake Austin I was thinking, "Man, look at these people. They're nuts." It was mid-day, hot Texas sun beating down, 93 humid degrees and tons of freaky folks were out essentially committing voluntary torture, yours truly included. Clearly Europeans and other developed countries aren't this fanatical about fitness. But they also don't have the fatties we do. Believe me, I saw a few of those in Texas. But I honestly think America's fattest 5% are the fattest in the world and America's fittest 5% are the fittest in the world. Fergie knows what I'm talking about. 
And the very next day my theory was confirmed as America's B team (minus Durant - dude is a top 5 stud balla in the world) whooped Turkey in the FIBA finals to breeze to a gold medal. In the most athletic sport we sent our farm squad and embarrassed people. Nuff said. 

4) BBQ - French, Italian, Chinese, blah blah blah. So they are fine cuisines and rightfully play a role in what Americans eat but give me a slab of meat cooked over an open flame any day of the week. I don't care that Zagat's didn't rate it in one of their snooty books. Its damn good and as far as I can tell, all American. Geez, you thought people in the south see football as a religion? Try bar-b-que! It gets downright nasty with each region claiming theirs is the best. But you know who the winner in all this is? Me and You. These crackpot chefs slave away for hours to achieve the best tastes around. In the end, my oversized appetite benefits. I had some brisket down in Austin and man was it good. I'll take that over a escargot any day. 

 What do you like about our country that everyone claims is going down the shitter?

Hey MVVA, "You play to win the game"!

So after a prolonged hiatus, I'm back to make sense of the final two entries. This Friday the real winner is announced. On to MVVA .

The monumentality of the Gateway Arch makes it impossible to transform the Memorial and its grounds with one bold stroke. Instead, the MVVA team proposes a network of finer-grained interventions incorporating natural science, engineering, and design into a holistic philosophy of ecological urbanism.
So when I saw the MVVA quote above issued in their project statement I immediately thought of this (Yes, it is Sunday and I have football on the brain). HELLO MVVA, you play to win the game! Not just to play, but to win. Long live Herm Edwards. We talked about how it seemed like PWP was just happy to make the finals based on shoddy renderings and an amateurish flyover. In MVVA's case it seems like winning was never part of the ingrained strategy. I know little things can add up to a lot, but when they are Avian and Aquatic research centers I wonder if we aren't subtracting instead of adding. Some thoughts. . . 

1) Part of the exercise of holding a competition with this high of a profile is to generate excitement that can be sustained over the next five years. If you move the meter as they say, you'll start moving the money too. Undoubtedly, the winning scheme will have to excite the public and the private sectors to the tune of $milllions$ in investment. With that said, MVVA gives us an Avian Research Center. I just wet my pants with excitement. No really! No disrespect to you bird watchers out there but you make Bill Belichick look excitable. MVVA's game plan for the Illinois side: "Let's flood it and make a research center that appeals to .02% of the population our centerpiece". 
2) Just so I don't look like a hypocrite, you'll recall that I lauded the Weiss/Manfredi team for using a ferry loop to link both sides of the river. MVVA does that as well and makes a compelling case as to how to engineer it. In my opinion it's the most engaging way to allow pedestrians to cross the river. But unlike W/M, MVVA doesn't conceive of transportation as holistically or as elegantly. Which leads me to. . . 

 3) The Levy. The place where that ferry would land and where you would see the kind of activity rendered above. NOT! It's as if MVVA thinks the only people coming to the memorial are bird-watching triathletes. Hello! (thanks Herm) The midwest is full of beer drinking, sausage eating, overweight tourists. Eliminating Wash Ave. and Leonor K Sullivan
Boulevard (the road along the levy now) would be colossal mistakes. Seriously, this is America, the land of the free and home of the fat and/or elderly tourist. Someone who in 90 degree heat will curse the fact that they have to walk 1/2 a mile to reach the river. A simple resurfacing of the road or traffic calming would make the levy instantly more ped-friendly. It's too bad because I like the obelisk markers quite a bit. What a great way to gauge the level of the river instantly. 

4) Just thought I would mention a little thing we architecture folks call "word diagrams", which translates into regular English as "Bullshit". You'll see below some lovely multi-colored words arranged neatly on a plan. Nice enough. "Cool" you might even say. Actually from a design standpoint I like this well enough. But I just wanted to say "MVVA, I'm on to you." I know from personal experience you throw together some word diagrams at the 11th hour when you are looking to fill some space on your boards. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. I'm just sayin. 

So I'll turn to sports to be my crutch for one more analogy that I think sums up MVVA's competition entry. For you and I and all the 10 + handicappers out there, if we make par it's a good thing. I know for me it is. But when you are playing with the big boys on Sunday and you get to a straightforward par 5, par should be the farthest thing from your mind. A par is an opportunity lost because the rest of the field is getting birdies and Tiger and Phil have make-able puts for eagle. When we tally up our scorecard at the end of the round we might think, "Huh, I got a par on 16. Not bad!" Losing mentality. And really we can't even begin to understand what that missed opportunity will cost us in the long run. Same thing here. There are too many missed chances and content, banal gestures that I can't give anything to this entry but a 0.


PWP Submits Entry from Cretaceous Period

I'd like to create some suspense with these entries but in this case I can't. Today we bludgeon the PWP, Foster, Civitas team and put them out of their misery. 
Before I get too nasty, there are a couple passable aspects of this design that I can enumerate on all of my pinkie fingers. More on that later. As if the hand-drawn renderings weren't enough, the PWP flyover video, which was posted today with all the rest of the teams, is 4:54 of dead silence. Seriously? My 12 year-old cousin could add music to an animation, you're telling me nobody at Foster knows how to do it? The only plausible explanation is that the PWP team decided to go minimalist on the design and production expenditure so they could use the excess money to bride local officials. Other than that I'm at a loss. 

Some thoughts. . . 

1) This is kind of like complimenting a plus-sized lady on having big boobs but I like the Museum in this scheme. It's about the only thing I like. Foster clearly decided to shoot out one last flare from this sinking ship. The slit skylights are powerful and the worm's eye views of the arch from inside the museum are pretty cool. 

2) An iconic earthwork mound on the other side of the river? I thought we already had one of those? There is no way this one could possibly mean more to the history of the region right? Just another example of the stone age thinking going on in this entry. Going for iconic is OK, but copying a culture we killed and suppressed (Native Americans in general) over centuries and then erecting a monument devoid of meaning that would attempt to upstage theirs in terms of attracting tourists is just funny. Oh and surrounding it with the trendy "urban agriculture" we have been force-fed here in St. Louis for a decade now doesn't help.  
 3) Honestly I really respect and admire the Illustrator for this team, Chris Grubbs. He's a Wash U guy and even was an illustrator for some projects I worked on at ROMA. But come on! Benisch is shopping their rendering out and getting photo-realistic results. SOM and BIG are pushing the envelope as well. For a competition that is about the future of St. Louis, it would be nice to see some 21st century rendering techniques. Chris' drawings are better than some renderings though. And what's that I spot? Sketchup? Yup, apparently PWP used the etch-a-sketch of 3D programs as their primary visualization tool. It makes their flyover video that much more believable. 

4) Finally, it's hard to like this scheme when such things as "Future Cultural Facility" label an amorphous gray blob on your site plan. Or you totally neglect representing the connections from the arch grounds across the river. While SOM and BIG are reinventing cultural building typologies and landscapes and Weiss Manfredi is finding a place for solar panels to power new entertainment complexes, PWP puts a gray blob on the north and south side of the site and calls it good. If anything says, "We're just happy to get this far" it is that. 

This kind of scheme is like a boring married couple who have let themselves go and now don't hesitate to put cheese on their double whopper when they go to Burger King three days a week. Conservative doesn't even begin to describe the lack of risk and creativity here. While I bet it was a deliberate strategy by PWP, St. Louis isn't that sleepy and boring. Thinking the public would gravitate to such a scheme is insulting. But watch the motherfucker win. 

You already know what I'm going with. . . . 0.