Anyone who has been through some of St. Louis’ oldest areas, particularly in mostly black neighborhoods, is likely to have been struck by the number of uninhabited spaces.
The architects from the German firm raumlaborberlin certainly were. When they received a commission to examine the urban landscape of St. Louis, they developed a project that would draw attention to all that unused space.
With that in mind, the company dismantled the interior of a home in the Lewis Place neighborhood and is remaking it inside the Pulitzer Arts Foundation building in Grand Center. The foundation will open its exhibit on the interior of the house at 4562 Enright Ave. on July 29.
“Why move a house inside an art institution?” asked Kristin Fleishmann Brewer, the foundation’s director of public projects. "For us it’s really about framing questions. We pass these structures, vacant buildings, crumbling buildings, every day in St. Louis and we become used to them in the landscape. But by moving them inside an art institution we can frame it as a series of questions.”
An exhibition catalog highlights key questions the architects want visitors to consider as they view the work. Among them:
- What does a home represent, and how does it reflect our lives and dreams?
- How do we equitably re-envision the landscape of post-industrial American cities?
- How do we disrupt a system that favors economic efficiency over community?
Over the past month workers removed the Enright house’s interior beams, joists, staircases, walls and doors. They transported the materials to the Pulitzer building and reassembled them this week.
When visitors enter the house, the first space they see will look similar to how it did in about 1890. As they move through the house, they will be able to sense how the house might have been updated through time. As they leave, they will see the architects’ vision of a future living space.
“Really it’s about moving towards the future together,” Fleishmann Brewer said.
To that end, foundation staff members interviewed residents across the St. Louis metropolitan area about their views on home, neighborhood, and the future of the city. At the heart of the project is an urge to inspire city residents to reconsider the urban landscape and how it reflects socio-economic concerns facing the region.
“Behind it is our desire that this could somehow be changed,” said Jan Liesegang, one of ramlaborberlin’s founders. “But what we’re working on here is not trying to find a solution for this ongoing problem. But we really focused on what home is like, and why is it that everybody still dreams of having this freestanding house.”
The Pulitzer foundation and raumlaborberlin looked specifically for houses north of Delmar Boulevard, aiming to drawing attention to the disparity in economic status between its neighborhoods and those south of Delmar. They worked with residents of the Lewis Place and Vandeventer neighborhoods, Lewis Place Historical Preservation Inc., and the Lewis Place Improvement Association.
Much of the salvaged building materials that weren’t used in the reconstruction were sold locally, instead of out of state. Profits from the sale of salvaged bricks will be donated to Louis Place Historic Preservation Inc. to fund programing for young people.