It shouldn’t be called City Museum. It should be called Phantasmagoria Central or something. For those of you who have never heard of St. Louis, Missouri, it is the gateway to the American West and located on the Mississippi River. It is home to the City Museum, way up there on my list of amazing places I’ve been in the world. If you are a creative person, a maker of any sorts, prepare to be amazed, astonished and thoroughly inspired. And any child over the age of 2, and likely all the grown-ups you know too, will beg to go back.
The City Museum is located in the site of a former shoe factory and occupies an entire city block. It is made of recycled industrial parts and architectural salvage. It is part adventure playground, part Alice in Wonderland and all organic, intuitive, outsider art on steroids.
You rarely know where the tunnels you are crawling through or the stairs you are climbing will lead you, you only know that you are entering another world designed by a sculptor with an amazing imagination. You’ll be thinking about how cool it was long after you’ve returned home and you’ll spot a key someone has dropped in the street and you’ll think about all of the different things you could do with that key–things that you might not have thought about had you not gone to the City Museum.
The spindles on the staircase–rollers from the conveyors of the shoe factory, the mosaic on the column–one night’s worth of oyster shells from a local seafood restaurant, the wall next to the elevator–old engraving plates from a printer, the spiral climbing structure over there–used to be a refrigerant tube used in a beer factory.
Yes that is our friends’ 3-year old climbing through a suspended tunnel made out of salvaged rebar 5 stories above the ground. It is connected to an abandoned FBI plane at one end and a series of climbing structures and old buses and a fire engine on the other. Did I mention that the place stays open until 1 am? We stayed for 5 hours and left only because our young children needed to go to bed. We didn’t even make it to the glass-tube slide that goes through the shark pool, see the acrobats or enter the Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem.
Going to the City Museum will make you rethink your definition of materials because it shows just how great design can make anything interesting. You will feel like a kid again, head swirling in amazement and longing to go make something.