Title: Gateway Arch – Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Author: Eero Saarinen
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Year complete: 1965
Description: Monumental stainless steel archway along the west shore of the Mississippi. Part of the larger Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which memorializes the westward expansion of the United States, the first civil government west of the Mississippi, and the Dredd Scott case.
In the 1930s, St. Louis struggled through the Great Depression and was desperate for reprieve. Created in 1935, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was established by Congress and the National Parks Service with the intention of providing work for the people of St. Louis as well as help improve the city’s image, which was failing particularly along its riverfront, where Old St. Louis had fallen into decay.
Following a WWII victory in 1945, the United States was rising to the peak of imperial power and might. A design competition was held between 1947 and 1948 with the intention of memorializing the United State’s expansion west of the Mississippi with a monument that symbolized the conquering of the great American West. Eero Saarinen, who had worked extensively under his father, Eliel, entered and later won the competition independently. His design, which featured a stainless steel catenary arch, was self-described as a “Gateway to the West, National Expansion, and whatnot.”
At 630 feet tall and completed in 1965 after six years of construction, the Gateway Arch is the tallest constructed monument in the Americas (80 feet taller than the Washington Monument) and the tallest arch in the world (and in turn, the world’s largest gate). Such a monument was built as feat of engineering that was to rival the power of the American West and expressed the country’s economic and imperial standings at a global scale. Saarinen went through extensive research on the equation to produce the arch, which was designed with an engineering tolerance of 1/64th of an inch in order for the legs to meet at the keystone.
Despite initially symbolizing westward movement provoked by Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the monument has grown to mean much more. A symbol of hope and innovation, people now look to the monument as a gateway to the future and any conceivable frontier, from medical sciences to social progressiveness or any such movement that works to better the human condition and plays with the innate human quality of exploration.
Currently, the memorial grounds are undergoing a vast redevelopment and redesign that seeks to represent the arch as a symbol of an idealistic future towards which to aspire.
PS: I just think that it’s incredibly beautiful as architecture. Its elegance and material qualities just make me really sappy and I could just stare at it all day.