A Day In St. Louis – Part 2

After the art museum we decided to have a late lunch and ended up in a calzone shop in the Tower Grove neighborhood; Sauce On The Side. Nothing like good food and good beer to keep a hungry tourist going! I will say this, I was not hungry after eating that calzone, it was big.

Next stop on our day trip was the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Since it was too cold to see the landscaping and the flower beds, it may not have been the best choice. Also, I was not sure if the varieties in the greenhouse were extensive enough to make the price of admission worth while. However, it was Rebecca’s idea so I did not share my thoughts. But on the ride over she talked about the full size tropical trees in the green house, which changed my mind.

When we pulled into the parking lot I saw that the new, ultra modern visitors’ center was still under construction. Judging by the architect’s renderings I saw online after our visit, we would walk though a small part of that new structure. Despite that area being simple in design, the interior was an interesting division of vertical and horizontal space. The first room evoked a sense of vertical spaciousness, with it’s tall walls, large windows and the light colored materials used in its building. The next room, where the ticket windows are, opens up horizontally and achieves that same open feeling but in opposite direction. I hope this engaging division of the interior space is used through out the entire building. If so, there might be another building in St. Louis to make my favorites list.

The old visitors’ center is next to this building and is slated for demolition. Currently, it houses a Dale Chihuly glass chandelier; which will be relocated in the central glass atrium of the new structure. If you are in the city when the new visitors’ center is completed, just seeing that chandelier is worth a trip over there. I have seen many of Chihuly’s glass sculptures and they never fail to impress and amaze.

The path we took to the indoor garden, or the Climatron, gave me an interesting view of the grounds exposing the layers of architecture that were added over the hundred a fifty eight year history of the institution.

When I left the new visitors’ center, a modern space designed with modern thinking and built with contemporary materials, I was confronted with the old greenhouse, a vintage structure built in the early 1900’s. Its tall windows with their multiple rows of small glass panes, and set in a rough exterior of dark red brick and white mortar, had a vivid contrast to the tall seamless expanses of glass set in the shiny metal walls of the visitors’ center. In one respect, the new visitors’ center was an updated version of the old greenhouse.

Then I approached the Climatron which was a short distance up the path.

When it was built, this structure was also ultra modern in every way. Now it looks dated and old fashioned in its own way.

It is a geodesic dome with a design sensibility straight out of the green movement of the 1960’s. To put it in a cultural context it has California commune and Bucky Fuller futurism written all over it. It reminds me of the biosphere space station from that forgotten 1972 Sci Fi film Silent Running.

Even its’ name, Climatron, has a 60’s sci-fi feel – Ultron, Atavachron, to mention a few others names from the distant past of my childhood.

Seeing the Climatron immediately after the old brick building was not just a vivid contrast but a jarring one. Unlike the first architectural contrast I encountered, the shape as well as the materials used to build this unique dome like structure, were completely different from the long brick green house of sixty years before.

One employed spherical proportions in its design and an intricate aluminum exo-skeleton framing triangular acrylic panels for its construction. The design and the materials developed in the 20th century.

The design of the other was based on square forms and constructed with small blocks of baked earth stacked up and held in place with mortar and supporting traditional steel roof beams and window frames. Everything that went into making this structure is has been used for centuries.

Probably the only architectural feature these two buildings have in common are the shape of their doors.

It was like looking at Abe Lincoln standing next to Captain James T Kirk. (!)

It also made me think that advancements in technology and engineering continually change the look of everything; just as much as the changing design sensibilities of the next generation of designers and architects do.

Stepping into the conservatory the dry, chilly air of late autumn was replaced with the heavy, moisture laden air of the tropics. We were shaded by full grown trees and surrounded with dense green foliage replete with strange and wonderful flowers, the likes we had never seen before. Flowing through this super sized terrarium was a stream with a waterfall as well as small pools supporting a variety of water plants. I even saw a big gecko clinking to the side of a tree like a garden decoration and heard a bird calling in the canopy above.

For the better part of an hour we walked the path at an unhurried pace and stopped frequently to take photos. Beside us, there was only four visitors roaming through the place, which made me feel like I was exploring and not just visiting.

After our visit to the botanical gardens we had some time before our dinner reservations at a sushi place named the Drunken Fish. It is near Forest Park, not far from the art museum. It is also near the De Baliviere, a neighborhood packed with lovely historic houses and majestic old trees. Several blocks of this area comprise a gated community and the streets are considers private property. It also has two private swimming pools and two private tennis courts exclusively for the use of its residences.

This area was made fashionable for residential living by the 1904 worlds fair; which was located in Forest Park.

When we were done driving around and had our fill soaking up the grand architecture of this charming community, we decided to skip dinner and head home. We were still full from lunch. We also had a three hour ride back and I did not want to do that after a long day of site seeing.

On the ride home the big city quickly gave way to a landscape of barren corn fields stretching out under a wide blue sky. We did not talk much but then we did not need to. We were still thinking about our urban adventure, the amazing art we saw, the jokes we laughed at and the good food we eat together.

It seemed we both wanted to make that time in St. Louis last as long as we could.

Everyday holds something incredible, we just have to look for it.

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