No Vacancy

 In Culture, Feature

A design project unfolding in an empty Grand Center lot aims to become a catalyst for urban transformation.


For six months during 2014, the vacant lot across Washington Avenue from The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts will have a decidedly different look. Rising from a grassy Grand Center plot next to Bruno David Gallery, a curious composition of platform, poles, panels and people will play host to public events such as stage plays, poetry readings, gardening classes, live music and educational events.

The pavilion-like structure is the result of an urban design-build competition sponsored by The Pulitzer and Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University. Known as PXSTL—an acronym for Pulitzer, Fox and St. Louis—the competition invited artists, architects and designers from across the United States to submit concepts to reinvent a vacant lot in St. Louis’ Grand Center that would demonstrate how small-scale interventions can spur large-scale urban transformation. The winner, architecture and design firm Freecell Architecture, was selected by a panel composed of Pulitzer staff members and Sam Fox School faculty. Installation of the PXSTL project will begin in spring 2014 and will open to the public in early summer for a span of six months.

Road Trip
Lauren Crahan and John Hartmann, founders of Freecell, have a history of engaging with the public when designing a project. They immerse themselves in the community—talk to people, eat at restaurants, explore the area—and then propose a project that fits the neighborhood. The PXSTL project was no exception. Understanding that designing a concept from their Brooklyn office for a city they knew nothing about would not suffice, the team set off on a scouting trip to St. Louis and set up meetings with several local nonprofits and visionary individuals. “Everyone we contacted wanted to sit down and share ideas,” Crahan says. “That's very unique to St. Louis.”

Lights Up
The trip paid off. Freecell Architecture will receive a $50,000 project budget and a $10,000 honorarium to build the temporary structure. The design consists of a platform and fabric canopy, with adjustable fabric funnels that can be raised above the structure’s frame individually for virtually limitless configurations. Lights will dramatically illuminate the structure in the evenings. Hartmann sees the project as the making and marking of space to foster and facilitate community involvement, but it will function on another level as well.

“It will register the environment,” Crahan says. “It will blow in the wind. It will capture and filter light in a certain way.”

The team's ultimate goal is to spur conversation about how design can initiate and affect urban renewal, a discussion they hope will continue long after the pavilion has been removed—which ultimately relies on the community's level of engagement. “We have a few months to work with the community to make sure that this isn't just authored by us, but is authored by a much greater group in St. Louis,” says Hartmann. “So everyone will be involved, excited and really want to use this project.”


4418_1458.jpgRenderings courtesy of Freecell Architecture.



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