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On the 13th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me…an Epiphany! OK, so there are 12 Days of Christmas (the 12th being January 5th), but the coolest day of all is the day AFTER the 12th day – January 6th is Epiphany! It celebrates the arrival of and the giving of gifts by the Magi (Three Wise Men). We fully expected Missouri, being The Show Me State, to show us some epiphanies, but we had no idea just what kind of hidden gems and geniuses awaited us. Of course, the first thing Missouri showed us was an ice storm in Kansas City, but here in the heartland, even in the face of the harshest circumstances, a creative spirit of rebirth and renewal persists. And so, in honor of Epiphany (the day), epiphany (the experience), and the holidays in general, we celebrate three Missouri wise men and their gifts in…
Epiphany / Wise Man #1: When Dutch Elm disease decimated the trees on Marty Kraft’s street in the 50’s, the loss profoundly affected young Marty who saw the wisdom of encouraging diversity in nature. In 1975, following the death of his father, Marty moved back into that same family home and found himself unwilling to mow down plants and wondering "what length does grass want to be?" Thus began "The Urban Wilderness" – an experiment in how far you can push your "yard"…and sometimes your neighbors. Even in the sleet and ice, we enjoyed the heck out of Marty’s wonderfully "overgrown" front yard forest – a unique educational tool and a source of peaceful inspiration for many locals in the heart of manicured suburbia. Marty’s website is full of goodies related to his "yard" and other projects, like the Heartland All Species Project focusing on local food production and natural no-till gardening. After our visit, Marty took us with him to a meeting of Kansas City’s Environmental Management Commission, on which he serves, where we met Bob Berkebile.
Epiphany / Wise Man #2: Though he would never tell you, Bob Berkebile is the godfather of the modern green building movement. It is ironic that one of America’s worst structural disasters would give birth to one of the most important revolutions in architecture. After the tragic Hyatt Regency collapse in KC, Bob found himself questioning the very nature and purpose of architecture, design, and community. "What is the real impact of our work on the people we intend to serve?" "Are we improving the planet or not?" Inspired by this epiphany and his mentor, Buckminster Fuller, Bob spearheaded the creation of the AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) and helped found the US Green Building Council (USGBC), both of which led to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Bob’s architecture firm, BNIM, has their fingers in all kinds of great green pies – as the website says, "Deep Design, Deep Green" – and is leading the green rebuilding of the country’s most devastated areas, including the town of Greensburg, KS which was wiped off the map by a tornado in 2007.
Epiphany / Wise Man #3: Finally, St. Louis gave us the eco-creativity mother lode – and another inspiring Bob. If Bob Berkebile’s epiphany spawned the modern green building movement, then sculptor Bob Cassilly’s spawned arguably the coolest building on the planet when he took a chance, bought St. Louis’ run-down old International Shoe Building for 69 cents a square foot in the early 1990’s, and turned it into the world’s most creative, engaging, constantly-evolving, and fully-interactive work of found-object art known as City Museum. What the rest of us call junk, Bob Cassilly turns into magic. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2007, City Museum was recently named one of the 10 Greatest Public Places in the World – and that’s not an exaggeration. There are no signs in the museum…just an intoxicating maze of caves and secret tunnels and enormous cement dinosaurs and climbable vehicles suspended in midair and ladders and giant slides and a circus, aquarium, indoor train, enormous pipe organ, rope swings, sky tubes…did we mention the caves?…all begging to be explored! Rick Erwin, the museum’s director, blew our minds with a whirlwind tour – so much so, that we came back for "seconds" the next day, including time with the museum’s fun-loving staff and its unofficial "Ambassador," Charles Whitcomb, who’s been there almost as long as Bob himself. Remember closing your eyes as a kid and letting your imagination run wild…that place? It’s in St. Louis, and you simply have to go experience it. Seriously – GO.
Boy, The Show Me State sure showed US!
Your YERT Team,
Ben, Julie, and Mark
P.S. For information about the topics in this video, check out these breadcrumbs!
For context, here’s some interesting background on the often misunderstood 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany.
Here are some great articles about Bob Berkebile. The first article traces his personal and professional journey and is particularly good. (The second article is here). For a fun journey through the history of the Green Building movement, check out the USGBC’s 15 years / 15 stories page.
The concept of Urban Wildernesses may be an idea whose time has come. In addition to Marty Kraft’s great website, here is an interesting website/blog called the Urban Wilderness Institute dedicated to the advocacy of urban wildernesses and an informative wikipedia entry on the subject.
As if City Museum weren’t cool enough, Bob Cassilly is working on a new project called Cementland – check out this NY Times article – and, yes, it’s what you think it is. Once you’ve visited City Museum, and you want to hit the other 9 Greatest Public Places in the World, check out the St. Louis Business Journal article here.