The visitor centre and museum at the heart of one of America’s most famous monuments has been given a dramatic makeover.
The Gateway Arch Museum underneath Eero Saarinen’s iconic St Louis arch has been extended by more than 45,000 square feet as part of a massive reimagining of the underground museum that will open next month. It explores key moments in the history of the US including the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and how pivotal the city of St Louis was in the westward expansion.
As part of the project, architects Cooper Robertson and James Carpenter Design Associates, renovated a huge underground space while opening up a new entrance facing on to the city’s historic old courthouse. The majority of the existing space has been demolished and reconfigured into new galleries, public amenities, and museum offices. As part of the greater project, a new circular stainless steel and glass curving entrance has been created along with monumental new exhibits.
Brand new features include a giant map of North America that lets visitors walk in the path of Lewis and Clark or follow the trails of those who moved west. Life-sized videos of wagon trains travelling across the rugged landscape surrounded by buffalo also help to get people into the pioneer spirit. There’s even a new exhibit on the design of the arch itself, and how Eero Saarinen’s iconic design beat off 172 other entrants in a public competition. The exhibits let visitors follow their own path through stories of the old west before making their way to the top of the Arch in its unique tram system.
The rethink of the museum is part of a greater master plan in St Louis to link the Arch more closely to the city itself. The $96 million project is just one piece in a $380 million renewal of the entire Jefferson National Expansion Memorial that includes a redesigned public square, new fountains, along with the museum and visitor centre.