Art Center in North St. Louis

  • Node G: UrbArts
  • Node H: UrbArts
  • Node I: UrbArts

In this comprehensive spring 2016 options studio, visiting professor Jan Ulmer led a group of graduate architecture students in developing concepts that explored questions of display in spaces that allow a wide range of community members to experience and enjoy art. The site, the Mullanphy Emigrant Home, is located on the border of Old North St. Louis and downtown, and serves as an interface between the two distinct neighborhoods. Long vacant, it is presently owned by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, which hopes to redevelop it into a space that serves the community. The studio focused on utilizing adaptive reuse techniques, transforming an old building to serve a new purpose.

Students worked in partnership with UrbArts, a nonprofit organization that believes that empowering artists will uplift communities, and provide opportunities for marginalized artists and youth. UrbArts’ current studio space in Old North St. Louis features a gallery and a small performance space. It selected the Mullanphy Emigrant Home as an ideal location for expansion.

The proposed expanded program included performance spaces for music, theater, poetry, and dance, as well as visual arts displays for painting, drawing, sculpture, and other forms of creative expression. The space was also intended to include food services, studio and living spaces for artists in residence, and all of the administrative amenities needed to run a fully functioning arts space. Students were challenged to fit all of this programming—totaling nearly 22,000 square feet—into the existing Mullanphy Emigrant Home building, which led to the development of creative extensions and additional buildings. Students also dealt with outdoor spaces—including gardens, performance spaces, and space for other activities—as they considered ways for the building to be a “lighthouse” for the neighborhood and St. Louis.

To more fully understand the community and UrbArts’ mission, students attended opening events at the current space, experiencing poetry, visual art, and performances. They responded through exercises that challenged them to interpret the work into space, laying the foundation for projects developed during the semester.

Final conceptual designs were presented to UrbArts' stakeholders, inspiring new ideas for the space. These included proposed additions to the building, cantilevered exhibition spaces, outdoor performance venues, and new views and beacons that highlight Old North St. Louis as a destination. The final boards were displayed at UrbArts’ gallery, and will serve as a starting point for future efforts to acquire and renovate the building.

The following students participated in this course: Juanchu Chai, Yuwen Huang, Qianru Jiao, Yiwei Li, Xinzhi Pan, Kaiwen Xie, Xiaoling Xu, Mingjing Yang, Yuwei Yang, Bin Yuan, Chenming Zhang, and Kun Zhong.


Old North St. Louis Restoration Group