Field Observations

Soldiers Memorial & Court of Honor receives two ASLA Awards

At their annual awards event, the St. Louis Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recognized Soldiers Memorial and Court of Honor with a Merit Award in the category of Landscape Architecture Design. Earlier that day, ASLA Central States Region awarded the project an Honor Award.

About the Project

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the downtown site of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum on October 14, 1936, as a tribute to St. Louisans who sacrificed their lives in World War I. The art deco edifice faces the Court of Honor, a public park and plaza located across the street which memorializes World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In 2015, after years of decline, the Missouri Historical Society signed on to oversee the renovation and reconstruction of the Memorial, and to serve as its long-term steward.

DTLS worked as part of a multidisciplinary design team to revitalize and enhance the grounds of the Soldiers Memorial and the Court of Honor. Because of the site’s historic nature, the project focused heavily on preservation and restoration. At the same time, the Missouri Historical Society recognized the need to re-imagine the Memorial in a 21st Century context. With that in mind, the site design sought to unify the two blocks with a multi-function urban plaza and park space, with new fountains to activate the Court of Honor, and outdoor memorial rooms to provide space for quiet contemplation.

The Soldiers Memorial is mirrored in the new reflecting pool at the center of the Court of Honor. The fountain in the middle ground pays tribute to each of the five branches of the United States Armed Forces.

The Soldiers Memorial and Court of Honor served as a solemn monument and civic gathering space for generations of St. Louisans.  However, after decades of use and limited funding, the building and outdoor spaces fell into decline and faded from prominence.

The Court of Honor as viewed from Soldiers Memorial roof terrace before renovations

The Court of Honor before renovations

The primary goal of the Memorial’s renovation was to update its functionality while restoring its historic attributes and enhancing the urban fabric.  In order to serve a contemporary audience, the site was significantly reconfigured to showcase its history, increase flexibility, improve accessibility, and strengthen connections to the Gateway Mall, St. Louis’s central civic space.

For most passersby, the association between the Soldiers Memorial and the Court of Honor was not immediately evident.  The renovation and redesign effort sought to unite the two blocks with an urban plaza, strengthening their axial relationship while opening views of the Memorial from Market Street.

Chestnut Street, which runs between the two blocks, has been narrowed from 76’ down to 24’, allowing for one traffic lane and a bike lane in its new configuration. At the center of the block, recessed curbs and upgraded pavement define an urban plaza which calms traffic and unifies the space. Chestnut Street can be completely closed to traffic for special events.

At the center of the urban plaza is a large multi-purpose lawn which may be used to set up event tents or host large gatherings.  The lawn area features reinforced turf and enhanced drainage, as well as flexible event lighting and AV capabilities.

Landmark trees help to define spaces, lending shade and historic gravitas to the site. DTLS worked closely with the BSI Constructors to protect these significant assets during construction.

Seating, paths, transitions, and parking (including bicycles) were designed with access in mind. The design team worked with a panel of accessibility experts and disabled veterans throughout the project to ensure that the Memorial is a welcoming place for all visitors.

Plaques honoring the fallen from post-WWII conflicts have been relocated and repositioned to lend more prominence and allow for increased interactivity with visitors.  Walls featuring these plaques are the focus of outdoor rooms nestled into shaded allees on either side of the event lawn.

The Memorial Rooms offer smaller, more intimate contemplation spaces in contrast with the larger civic-scale areas of the site…they also provide a great place to sneak a quick dance when the military band strikes up a swinging tune!

Granite bands and concrete panels defined a grid on the plinth of the Memorial prior to renovations. This grid was recreated and extended into the site plaza spaces and across Chestnut to the Court of Honor.  New granite was sourced to match existing remnants.

Various elements from the previous site layout were repurposed or reconfigured.  The Anchor Memorial was relocated from the building plinth to street level and marks a threshold into the site.  In the Court of Honor, a central lawn panel was re-imagined as a raised reflecting pool and surrounded with complementary paving materials.

Along Market Street, efforts were made to align this renovation with other projects underway in downtown, incorporating a larger vision of a continuous promenade, or “urban hallway”, that will one day span the length of the entire 15-block-long Gateway Mall.

Safety and activation at night was considered key to the project’s success.  DTLS worked hand-in-hand with Randy Burkett Lighting Design, Inc. to highlight key features and incorporate pedestrian-oriented lighting elements.

The planting design was informed by the historic site plan. It was recognized that the appropriate palette should be restrained and respectful to the stately nature of the Memorial. However, unlike the historic plan, which features invasive species almost exclusively, the new plan is designed to showcase Missouri native plants and seasonal change.

Client: Missouri Historical Society