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Design Agendas: Modern Architecture in St. Louis, 1930s–1970s is the first major exhibition to examine the complex connections in St. Louis among modern architecture, urban renewal, and racial and spatial change in the interlocking histories of New Deal planning, the Great Migration, and the civil rights and Great Society eras. With material drawn from the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri Historical Society, and other collections, this exhibition situates some of the most celebrated works of modern architecture in St. Louis within the context of mid-twentieth-century regional developments. Using architectural drawings, models, photographs, films, digital maps, and artworks, Design Agendas explores a remarkably destructive, creative, dynamic, and conflicted time in St. Louis’s architectural and urban history.  

Most of the architectural works were created in a period of de facto racial segregation, an era that is now known for its often-racist modernist urban planning, such as the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project (1950–56) and the clearance of the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood with its twenty thousand African American residents (1959). These and other urban renewal initiatives were also part of several interlocking design agendas that used modern architecture and planning to propose and express new, and then thought to be more liberating, ideas about social organization and forms of architecture and planning.   

The accompanying scholarly publication will serve as one of a small but growing number of reference works on modern architecture in St. Louis. The book, edited by Eric P. Mumford, features essays by the architectural historians Shantel Blakely, John Guenther, Kathleen James-Chakraborty, Eric P. Mumford, and Winifred Elysse Newman, with a contribution by Michael E. Willis. It is published by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and nationally and internationally distributed by the University of Chicago Press. 

Design Agendas is curated by Eric P. Mumford, Rebecca and John Voyles Professor of Architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, and Michael E. Willis, FAIA, with Mary Reid Brunstrom, independent art historian; Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena, architects; and Leslie Markle, curator for public art at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

The curatorial liaison is Sabine Eckmann, William T. Kemper Director & Chief Curator.


The exhibition is made possible by the leadership support of the William T. Kemper Foundation. All exhibitions at the Kemper Art Museum are supported by members of the Director’s Circle, with major annual support provided by Emily and Teddy Greenspan and additional generous annual support from Michael Forman and Jennifer Rice, Julie Kemper Foyer, Joanne Gold and Andrew Stern, David and Dorothy Kemper, Ron and Pamela Mass, and Kim and Bruce Olson. Further support is provided by the Hortense Lewin Art Fund, the Ken and Nancy Kranzberg Fund, and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.