Even if a visit to St. Louis in the U.S. State of Missouri has never risen in your consciousness, this singular, mad and visionary creative mecca (like a rather curious and unsettling coupling between Gaudi and a Disney theme park) should automatically thrust the city into the forefront of destination travel-I can honestly say I have never seen the likes of it (there indeed may be as daring and imaginative a sibling somewhere in the wide world, but I have no knowledge of it). The fever dream of artist Bob Casilly, who bought (in 1997) the 600,00 sq foot, 10-storey building that once housed a shoe factory, work began in earnest to convert the space into a hybrid of playground, museum and, curiously enough, repository of architectural and cultural history (Art Deco and Beaux Art mouldings, doorways, and other various features from lost historic buildings now reside throughout the rooms) . The centrepiece of an already monumentally stupefying environment is the exterior MonstroCity, a dizzying network of slides, metal climbing shafts, bridges and objects (including the fuselage of a Sabreliner 40 aircraft and a castle turret, all materials repurposed), some perilously suspended high overground, through which overjoyed children (and more than a few adults) scuttle and creep. You can only stand and wonder at the enormity of the health and safety sanctions in place. Inside, in addition to a series of restaurants and rest areas for parents, as well as activity rooms for kids, is found the Shoe Shafts, a series of spiral conveyances once used to shift product from floor to floor, now recast as slightly intimidating, elongated slides, from which a visitor may choose between a 10-storey or 5-storey plunge, periodically soundtracked to the fateful intonations of a Wurlitzer pipe organ. Beneath this space lies the dimly-lit, fascinating Enchanted Caves, a disorientingly narrow system of constructed pathways and portals and corridors, some of which only uncomfortably loop back on themselves. The ground floor offers the single largest continuous piece of tiling in the U.S., extending from the floor up along the supporting  columns and along the stairway, beautifully patterned and coloured. The eye is repeatedly engaged, as there is a constant surrounding flux of activity, bodies climbing, crawling, ceaseless motion. A rooftop area, which includes a pond, a working Ferris wheel, and a school bus precariously perched over the side of the building, is open only on weekends, so I wasn’t able to access it. A truly astonishing day may end with a walk and visit to the nearby iconic Arch (which I would not recommend to those who suffer the least bit of claustrophobia, as the dimension of the car that transports the curious to the top is no bigger than the interior of a washing machine, is absent of windows, and crowds five people at a time!). From there, it’s easy to retire to the City Garden, a verdant stretch of urban land and space devoted to sculpture, hosting 30 pieces by an international set of artists. On indecently hot days, the newly opened Kaldi’s cafe offers respite and sanctuary in the form of cold drinks-from a perch on the terrace, you may take in more than a few of the garden’s features. In a city still visually struggling to emerge from the recent economic collapse, these are perfect examples of positive and ambitious development and investment projects (City Museum continues to add new layers, and the immediate area around the arch is currently undergoing a large-scale cosmetic upgrade).



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