AD Classics: Gateway Arch / Eero Saarinen

© / Exothermic

Built to commemorate the westward expansion of the United States, the Gateway Arch designed by Eero Saarinen became a futuristic marker that rose above the cityscape of . In its design, this monument drew from previous symbolic constructs of similar aspiration, scale and mathematical precision.

© / KellyK

The catenary, an ideal form that exists largely in compression, was the starting point for Saarinen’s design. Sweeping a triangular section of variable size along this curve was the basis for its form. The mathmatical catenary was then distorted in order to increase aesthetic impact of the design while still maintaining its structural performitivity. The gateway arch preseved the tradition of mathematical rigor and formal simplicity in the design of American monuments, that began with the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, while instilling a notion of contemporaneity in the material and programmatic complexity of the project.

© / jeezychreezy

The arch is comprised of steel-clad concrete triangular sections that vary from . It varies in thickness from 54ft (bottom), to 17ft (top). The steel plates are assembled very tightly against each other in order to increase its structral stability and also to increase its aesthetics—making it look even more slender than it is.

© / puroticorico
© / Mediafury

Programmatically, Saarinen wanted his arch to also act as an observation deck. A complex system of elevator cars that climb diagonally to the top of the curved arch carry 12 people at a time to the top where visiters can view the surrounding landscape from 630 feet above the ground. These elevator cars were designed as futuristic pods that were inspired by the similar aesthetics of the time.

© / Marcin Wichary

In addition to the arch, the project sought to situate itself within a larger park of The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The plan reframed the historic Old Courthouse as the park’s center under the apex of the new Gateway Arch. The pairing of the arch and the courthouse has become iconic of both the city of St. Louis and the greater region.

Architect: Eero Saarinen
Location: St. Louis, , USA
Project Year: 1963-1965
References: Wikipedia / Gateway Arch
Photographs: ExothermicKellyKjeezychreezypuroticoricoMediafuryMarcin Wicharytiswango




Cite: Ganes, Jesse. "AD Classics: Gateway Arch / Eero Saarinen" 03 Aug 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>
  • PatrickLBC

    One of my fondest childhood memories was the day my family visited The Arch. The sheer scale and formal simplicity made a huge impression on me as a kid — not to mention the strange “pod ride” to the top. The magnificent city views were icing on the cake. Anyone in the area should plan a stop here.

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