From Wall to Wall: A Living Architectural Legacy in St. Louis

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With a list of stellar accomplishments miles long behind him, Tom Wall, owner of Mitchell Wall Architecture and Design, is driving his father’s legacy forward creatively with passion and new twists on the very trade that his dad, the late Mitchell Wall, began back in 1976 right here in St. Louis.

Tom sees St. Louis as a “city of change” and points to this attribute as a benefit for his firm. “With enough large companies based and headquartered here, it brings a consistent influx of new people who need a place to live. I could never see my company being based anywhere else,” Tom explains. Some of his favorite areas of architecture in and around St. Louis are Westmoreland and Portland Place.  “Those houses are trapped in time and serve as a window into a past that you really can’t find anywhere else.  The history of St. Louis is really interesting to me, and those homes are the best examples of life at the turn of the 20th century that remain.” He quickly points out the architecture of Grand Center as well, “It’s amazing that to have such a cross section of all styles in that one area, from Tadao Ando’s Pulitzer [Arts Foundation] to Powell Symphony Hall and [the Fabulous] Fox Theatre.”

Wall has always had a love affair with Scandinavian furniture and architectural designs hailing from Denmark; he even spent six months in Copenhagen attending the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts to study furniture design and Scandinavian architecture. He’s inspired by their use of traditional techniques and materials to create contemporary forms. “These days, everyone is using algorithms and computers to create buildings that have no connection with nature,” he explains. “It is only in this most immediate blip of human existence that we have started to live in synthetic surroundings. I love to bring the outdoors in. We need nature; we need natural materials. We are evolutionarily wired to seek out shelter, and this instinct does not point us to a building shaped like a giant steel dollop of whipped cream.”

He attributes his success to having passion and allowing it to fuel him, rather than following the status quo, “I would never do anything I wasn’t passionate about; that would be a waste of time,” he says. “I think that is one thing that people fail to understand about life.  Find something you love, and then get so good at it that you turn it into an art form.”

It worked for his dad, and today that passion and creativity fuels Tom’s vision and success in an industry that doesn’t always embrace creativity, uniqueness or the artistry that goes into architecture. “There are a few townships in the area that are miserable to try to work in. If you try to do anything new, anything different, anything remotely interesting, the local review board will have a fit. I’ve learned that, if possible, and if all else fails, do it their way. Generally, the architecture suffers, but the neighborhood maintains its aesthetic homogeny. Isn’t that what’s ultimately the most important thing, that all houses look alike?” Wall wryly adds.

You may be tempted to think Wall had it easy and stepped right into his father’s footsteps without a second thought. But with a creative bent, penchant for writing and even acting, Wall spent four years in Los Angeles with a brief stint as a DJ for celebrity A-lister events. He was a Screen Actors Guild actor playing a deputy in “10-8: Officers on Duty,” has written plays and majored in medieval literature at Cornell University. He says that even his Facebook posts are on point.

With such a bright, bold and wide range of possibilities for this young man, why St. Louis? “St. Louis is my home; it offers things no other cities offer. We have the single best park in the U.S. — larger than Central Park [in New York City] — and our microbreweries are second to none. We have a first-class zoo, art museum and history museum, and they are all free. You can have more fun in this town on bus fare alone than any other city in the U.S. I looked all over the world after grad school, but once I was married and looking to put down roots, there was no other option in my mind. St. Louis was once one of the most important cities in America. We have such a wonderful and rich backstory that with some of the current events that have somewhat tarnished our name, I wish more people knew why it is that St. Louis exists in the first place.”

Wall warmly remembers his father and thinks he “would be amazed at today’s technology,” and that he would be a very “happy guy” to see how far Mitchell Wall Architecture and Design has come under his son’s thoughtful leadership, adding, “He would have been proud of me no matter what.” M