Fresh off the announcement of the famed Phillips 66/Del Taco saucer’s apparent preservation and reuse, St. Louis should not forget the other architecturally significant round building currently in danger by suburban redevelopment. The proposed development would replace the elegant and ovular AAA building with a presumably generic, cookie cutter big box store. This is yet another in a slew of assaults on Lindell Blvd- the best cluster of mid-century modern architecture in St. Louis. In the past few years alone, multiple buildings have been razed, defaced, or threatened, amplifying the need to preserve the remainder of the corridor.
While preservation of the Lindell corridor is critical and deserves significant attention, what the AAA site should become remains an immediate issue and the focus of this post. Our city has faced similar issues with other large chains. We want businesses to move to the city and be successful; however, a one-size or one-style-fits-all approach does not lend itself to protecting our urban fabric and architectural treasures.
It has already been demonstrated that, without much trouble, the AAA building could be saved alongside a newly constructed building, complete with drive-thru and parking lot. In fact, it is easy enough to save the existing building and fit a typically sized 13,000 sf CVS store on the site that the discussion becomes not if it can be done, but how it should be done. This project is intended to explore ways for big box stores to contribute aesthetically and experientially to the urban fabric, rather than dismantling it.
The design is informed by various existing site geometries and attempts to unify the block by reconciling and amplifying relationships between elements. The circle is important to understanding how the ovular AAA building is oriented, so it should be preserved alongside the new building, creating a plaza alongside an existing bus stop. The new mixed use building naturally wants to be part of the Lindell Blvd streetwall, with parking at the back as a visual extension of the neighboring parking garage. This new surface parking lot, which holds 50 vehicles, serves both the new CVS and the existing AAA building and is appropriately scaled to an urban setting.
Besides the usual copious amounts of parking, a typical big box store’s most destructive quality to an urban setting is the large expanses of blank exterior walls. The irony is that these blank walls hide an often robust activity within the store, an energy that unfortunately never manifests on the street where it’s needed. One possibility, creating walls of glass remains a passive way of showcasing the energy within and is not efficient for shelving merchandise. Rather, the activity inside the store should be repackaged, translated, and displayed at street level in new ways. Here LEDs are embedded in the sun/rainscreen, bringing the façade to life with interpreted images, patterns and lights acting as a barometer of the activity within.
The design of a well integrated urban big box store should also focus on the roof, often called the fifth façade because it is seen from taller urban buildings. The expansive roofs of big box stores make ideal candidates various sustainable technologies, including water management, energy generation and energy efficient cool roofs. Creating livable roof gardens, either intensive or extensive, would improve aesthetics and create a unique amenity. In this instance, the green roof is conceived as an amenity for the 2nd floor mixed use office space, but also offers a worthwhile visual connection for the dense apartment building next door.
Inside, the building would allow extreme flexibility. The interior is intentionally open, allowing CVS to shuffle shelving and merchandise as needed. This open floor plan also ensures views of the elegant AAA building, framed by an opening to create a visual connection within the block. Clearstory windows along Lindell (not seen in this image) bring daylight and natural ventilation into the space, cutting down on electric costs and creating a better interior environment.
Usually an after thought, the drainage system becomes an opportunity for expression on such large buildings. Here, the large roof drains to a sloping gutter, creating one of many layers within the composition of the façade.
Breaking down the scale of a large building is important to maintaining a pleasing streetscape. The proportioning and rhythm of the façade references the historic brick buildings across the street, attempting to visually unify the streetscape. This repetition lends itself to prefabrication and is intended as a continuation of the existing language of the Lindell Blvd modernism corridor.
We should be seeing infill and preservation along this critical corridor, not demolition. Lindell is arguably the most architecturally significant street in St. Louis and its buildings should be treated as such. The AAA building is architecturally significant and has plenty of useful life left. In a just world it would be saved and celebrated next to a neighboring building worthy of its urban context.
What happens to the AAA site should contribute to the legacy of Lindell Blvd as St. Louis’ modernism corridor, rather than attempt to destroy it.