There was good news and bad news for St Louis’ Grand Center Arts District in 2001. That autumn, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation opened its new concrete campus, designed by the legendary Tadao Ando. Six months earlier, the adjacent National Memorial Church of God was struck by lightning and burned down to its 100-year-old supporting walls.
In the intervening years, while the stone shell acquired a dramatic coat of Boston ivy, the Pulitzer resolved to acquire it. And this June – two decades since that eventful year – construction will begin to revitalise the ruin as a permanent venue called Spring Church, after its address on North Spring Avenue.
‘In the last couple of decades the shell has become this iconic, beloved structure,’ says deputy director Kristin Fleischmann Brewer. ‘The installations we’ve done there, in collaboration with other St Louis arts organisations, are proof the space can be an asset. Expanding outside the walls of the museum gives us opportunities to engage with the public.’
To make the relic safe and accessible for the community, a structural engineer will retrofit the structure with a minimal steel I-beam skeleton. This will be footed into the ground along with new lighting, data channels, pathways and ramps.
‘We don’t want to over-design the space,’ she says. ‘Our goal is to stabilise the structure so people can gather safely.’
Local design firm Kiku Obata & Co, responsible for the Pulitzer’s identity and signage, will connect the church visually with Ando’s building. And they’ll tie it in with another neighbouring green space opened to the public last year: a rejuvenated lot called Park-Like, planted with local grasses and wildflowers.