Nelson Byrd Woltz was commissioned by the Gateway Foundation to design a public garden for the display of twenty four contemporary sculptures. The result is Citygarden, a three-acre park in the heart of downtown St. Louis on the Gateway Mall. The garden realizes a long-term vision to revitalize downtown with an active public gathering space. The park encourages interaction with contemporary art and the region’s ecology in a space of refuge and play, while creating a network of raingardens that treat the site’s stormwater.
The design of Citygarden celebrates the cultural and natural histories of St. Louis and its environs. The park is structured into three ecologically specific precincts: the Upland, the Floodplain, and the Lowland. The Upland precinct is bounded by a 550-foot long arcing wall of Missouri limestone evoking the river bluffs and slow carving forces of erosion. A glass café perches atop the bluff offering prospect over the garden. The Floodplain precinct’s playful spray plaza beckons visitors to cool off during hot summer days amid a field of over 100 night-lit vertical jets. Twenty species of shade trees provide refuge from summer sun, while visitors are encouraged to explore, and even touch the monumental sculptures. The Lowland precinct recalls the agricultural patterns along the river terrace’s bends and oxbows. The 1,150-foot long meandering seat wall is immersed in a banded garden of perennial and shrub plantings that celebrate the region’s dynamic ecology.
Citygarden challenges the use of a typical ornamental plant palette for public landscapes by emphasizing the seasonal variety of regionally native plants and creating spaces of playful interaction with both water and art. The public appreciation of the park has contributed to reinvestment in the surrounding neighborhood blocks, as office workers and families find refuge in its dynamic spaces.