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Improvements needed to the city block containing “Twain”

April 15, 2010 Downtown, Parks 15 Comments

As I explained yesterday (Readers split on Richard Serra’s “Twain”) the Richard Serra sculpture “Twain” was designed for it’s location and it must be seen from the inside to appreciate it.  As an appointed member of the newly formed Gateway Mall Advisory Board I see improving the appeal of this block as very important.  I and the other board members need to work within, or revise, the existing master plan (PDF).  So I looked to see what it said about Serra’s Twain:

“One of his earlier works, the City is fortunate to have one of his often ‘misunderstood’ sculpture.  Once the improvements to the two eastern blocks of the garden have been made, the space surrounding Twain should be revisited to see how it could better integrate into the redesigned blocks to the east and west.”

No real specifics except the clear understanding that the sculpture is to stay put. One of the best ways to integrate this block is the “hallway” element that is supposed to run the entire length of the Gateway Mall.

ABOVE: Two blocks of the hallway element is complete between 8th & 10th

Once the hallway is greater than two blocks long it will be a strong organizing element. You can hopefully imagine how extending the above one more block west will help Twain:

ABOVE: Narrow attached sidewalk between 10th and 11th Streets

The current sidewalk between 10th and 11th is nothing like the one from 8th to 10th. One of the best aspects of this hallway idea is how it will flow from block to block.

ABOVE: Gateway Mall hallway crosses 9th Street

At 9th street the design guidelines from the master plan are actualized.  Rain gardens help narrow 9th street and the sidewalk continues across the street easily.  Those of us using wheelchairs as well as those pushing a stroller can just continue in the same direction. Unfortunately the same treatment was not done at both 8th and 10th.  This mistake means part of the new Citygarden will need to be redone to extend the hallway in both directions.

ABOVE: Looking west across 10th Street

As you can see the 10th Street edge of the hallway in Citygarden is quite different than at 9th.  Had someone looked ahead they would have built the paving and curb here to the new standard so that all that needed to be done was the other side of 10th.  Ditto for 8th Street.  I intend to ensure as blocks are redone consideration is given to extending the hallway as adjacent blocks are rebuilt.

OK, so the “hallway” takes care of one side of the block.  The other three need new wider sidewalks as well. I had originally thought we needed some porous gravel paths leading to Twain but Serra wanted it to be approachable from any angle.   However the ground is currently uneven in places and my power wheelchair got stuck a few times.  Anyone in a manual wheelchair would be out of luck.  Even the wheels on a stroller are likely to get muddy.  I suggest special pavers that allow grass to grow through openings in places in and around the piece.  This would ensure a level surface while maintaining the all grass appearance.

Over and over I’ve heard people say the homeless and drunk baseball fans use the interior of the “Twain” sculpture as a giant steel urinal.  With so much activity in Citygarden to the aast I don’t think that is still the case.  Plus portable toilets are now available across the street at Citygarden.

ABOVE: Two portable toilets along the West edge of Citygarden
ABOVE: Two portable toilets along the West edge of Citygarden

Stunning Citygarden with portable toilets on the sidewalk, classy.  So my grand idea is to include a low-maintenance pay toilet on the SE corner of the Twain block, accessible from the hallway.   New York City recently added it’s first pay toilet:

The “Pay-Per-Potty” — as some cleverly call it — is purported to be automatically self cleaning. It even does the floors and is touted as more sanitary than regular public toilets.

Inside the unit, a sit-down, so to speak, will cost you a quarter.

The quarter will get you get 15 minutes of private time — and not a second more.

“The doors open and the eyes of New York are upon you,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Just in case you don’t know how much time you have left, a handy-dandy warning light will give you a three-minute warning.  (Full story)

Here are some short videos of pay toilets:

New York:


San Francisco:


New Zealand:


The Gateway Mall Master Plan calls for public restrooms along the length but not in the three blocks between Gateway One (7th  to 8th) the Civil Courts (11th-12th/Tucker), just where they are needed most. The pay public toilet I envision might be covered in stainless steel, some other metal or even growing plants.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. Chris says:

    I've used those pay toilets in Potsdam, Germany. They're really pretty cool, and yes, they're nice and clean after every use because they're hosed down a machine after every use.

  2. JZ71 says:

    Competing priorities – wouldn't adding the “hallway” element be at odds with the protecting the apparently sancrosanct “context” element of the Serra sculpture?! Personally, I think the hallway should be the priority, but I've had enough exposure to public art installations to be wary of making any assumptions.

    Seriously, just what exactly is the context? Probably something that needs to be resolved through discussions with the artist (still living), the city's arts community/donors and the Advisory Board. Was/is the context a treeless block (as the historic installation photo showed)? Does it extend to the curb line? 5' beyond the sculpture? 50'? 500'? Do current accessibility expectations trump the artist's original vision?

    I don't claim to have the answers, but the whole claim of needing to protect context needs to be resolved, both for this piece and for the other pieces on the mall. The Meeting of the Waters, while much less controversial, has its own context, as does every piece in Citygarden. Many artists have huge egos, and have a vested interest in protecting their vision, integrity and intellectual property. But where does that desire for control end? When they're paid? After 20 years? 50? After they die? When the larger context changes? When deteroration reaches a certain point? And who actually gets to decide?

    Unfortunately, “design by committee” deserves the negative connotation that it carries. Like your poll illustrates, the more controversial a piece is, the more likely the majority will vote for a “safer” alternative. As a city, we need to decide if we want to be midwestern and safe, or if we're going to embrace the non-traditional and not-so-easily-understood, not just in art, but in people, business and life . . .

  3. adamflath says:

    So would there possibly be sidewalks that lead into each of the entrances of twain? Maybe brick or something OTHER THAN bland cement. I would think that would be more invite to “explore” twain.
    Someone mentioned the Artist is still alive? Can we get him back and see what he thinks can be done?

  4. G-Man says:

    I walked through Twain late last summer, and due to the aroma, it was clear several relatively recent visitors to the area (homeless) paid no attention to the johnny-on-the-spots.

    Twain isn't sacred. Either integrate it into CityGarden, or get rid of it altogether. As it is, it's a waste of a city block.

  5. diamondPro says:

    Portable Restrooms are becoming useful for outdoor events also. I also saw it in some construction sites. it's really convenient to use. Diamond provides clean restroom rentals in Southern California by delivering porta potty rentals to those in need of construction toilet rentals and event restroom rentals. The event rental division specializes in porta potty rentals ranging from standard event porta potty rentals to luxury restroom trailers and portable shower trailers.

  6. Ibleedlou says:

    Twain needs to evolve with it's surroundings. Perhaps all it needs is lighting, landscaping, water features or maybe new works of art placed outside the sculpture in the gaps. If these new pieces could be viewed only from within Twain….you get the idea.
    Maybe it's a major no-no to suggest anything different than the original vision, but why should a piece of art many would call a blemish on downtown have more staying power than once beautiful buildings such as the Buder or Tile Guaranty that were both torn down on the blocks now known as City Garden to help create the Gateway Mall?
    Twain could be an extension of City Garden and the center piece of the block it nows sits upon, but besides pay toilets and new walkways, if it's going to stay shouldn't it inspire more or tie in with the city that has evolved around it since 1981?!

  7. Ibleedlou says:

    BTW, Seattle has a few pay toilets for sale on Ebay for $89,000!

  8. More Questions than Answers says:

    Steve — “Pay-Per-Potty” as you refer to them, are great — in theory. Until someone decides to use them to shot-up with drugs, or they start getting used by prostitutes and their Johns, or they seem like a good place to drop all your trash, or someone thinks it would be “funny” to use the floor as a bathroom. A quarter is a lot cheaper than a hotel room, and a lot safer than an alley where a cop might shot you, plus 15 minutes gives a drug user or a prostitute all the time they need. Who will own them? Maintain them? Do a little research on the drawbacks and the challenges that they bring before you declare them the best things since sliced bread. Also, the Advisory Board sounds a bit more like something that will be doing a lot of advising, what is your actual mandate?

  9. darondierkes says:

    I gotta say the choice of concrete for that curb we call a sidewalk along the Twain block is much better than the drab gray in City Garden. I don't see why a garden should have to look industrial.

    CityGarden has way too much gray, and to many sharp edges.

    Public toilets are never cool. I would vote instead for a zoning rule like they use in Seoul which says every building zones for tall office towers must have,
    1 – expensive sculptures out side
    2 – a small tree shaded plaza
    3 – a public bathroom in the lobby

    In Seoul, every building has a public bathroom. No heartless contraptions on the street required.

    In Barcelona, in George Orwell Square, there is a terrifying public toilet that locks itself and sprays down its interior. There's a scary count down, a flashing light, and a buzzer that makes you get out before you're trapped inside. First, everything is soaked, so it isn't the nicest thing to use. Second, it is terrifying to when the alarm goes off. What crazy water-wasting designer thought that would be a good idea? What insane politician thought it was a good idea to install?

    As the piece was originally designed in the context of very different surrounding blocks, would it be possible for Serra to be hired to revisit his work? As an artist, I'm sure he's grown and changed his mind about a lot of things. What if he reworked the hallway himself with bizzare metal trees and stuff? He ought to be consulted at least. Maybe he's unhelpful, but his opinion should be known. Not that we have to listen to him, but just that we should know what he thinks.

  10. Improvements were made under Mayor Vince and they didn't help. St. Louisans obviously do not like Twain or understand it. After decades we've given it enough time. Move Twain somewhere else in the City and put a building on this block.

    In the future how we direct the Gateway Foundation's generosity into rehabbing a building which the community actually values? With the wasted cost of City Garden, the Kiel would be completed by now. The same could be said for the Mullanphy or the Clemens Mansion. How about they purchase the GenAm building and turn it into a gallery and working space?

  11. JZ71 says:

    Every indication is that Richard Serra is both still living and has strong opinions about the site-specificity of his works: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/martin/art_l…. This link states, in part, that “In the early morning hours of March 15, 1989, the culmination of an eight-year struggle between government bureaucracy and the artist Richard Serra took place. Serra's site-specific structure, Tilted Arc,1981, was removed from 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, despite overwhelming local and worldwide support for its remaining at that site. The General Services Administration (GSA) established a complex arrangement of checks and balances with the selection and commission of this work, but the response from civil servants and others working in and around the Plaza was uncompromising: Tilted Arc would have to go. William Diamond, the GSA's New York Regional Administrator, had recommended (after three days of hearings that seem to suggest a solution other than the one implemented) that the sculpture be relocated, with a panel selected by the GSA and including Serra himself. This ruling outraged Serra. He claimed that because the sculpture was site-specific, to remove it would be the equivalent of destroying the piece. In addition Serra filed a $30 million lawsuit against the GSA to prevent the government agency from removing the sculpture. He cited as his defense breach of contract, trademark violations, copyright infringement and the violation of First and Fifth Amendment rights.” The ONLY way to find out whether he feels as strongly today, or not, about this piece, would be to ask . . .

  12. Mike says:

    So to understand twain I need to go inside and look out? Can't I achieve the same thing by holding up two pieces of card board over my face? What hubris this guy has. I couldn't care less about what he thinks. I'm sure he laughs himself silly when he thinks about how he was able to fool some city officials to actually pay him to create an eternal eyesore in the middle of their city. It would take less than 30 minutes to remove them. They can then be used to place over the hole in the street when the city is doing sewer work.

  13. equals42 says:

    Please add them to the Downtown area. They've had them for years in San Jose and SF, CA and they are very clean but prone to breaking down. I like even more the walk-up urinals you find in Amsterdam and other European cities. Wouldn't a few of those in areas with frequent drinking or large crowds alleviate some of the urine issues?


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