Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Performances Spaces

Texas Architect March/April 2010

Editor's Note
Dallas Arts District: Past and Future
Three decades in the making, the Arts District still evolves
by Stephen Sharpe

The reinvigorated Dallas Arts District provides a timely opportunity to feature performance venues around the state while highlighting the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theatre. Both are stunning additions to the city’s downtown cultural enclave, which has evolved over the last three decades through the ups and downs of the boom-bust economic cycle.

To learn more about the past and potential future of the Arts District, I invited four Dallas designers to join in an informal roundtable forum in January. The participants were: Duncan Fulton, FAIA, whose firm Good Fulton & Farrell Architects is the architect of record for the Annette Strauss Artist Square; Michael Malone, AIA, who wrote this edition’s feature article on the Winspear Opera House (see p. 44); Kevin Sloan, ASLA, who wrote the introductory article to the feature section (see p. 34); and Willis Winter, FAIA, an assistant director of the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department with responsibility over the planning for the Woodall Rodgers Park currently under construction immediately adjacent to the Arts District.

Our discussion began with impressions of the city’s announcement of the Sasaki Plan in 1982 that recommended the consolidation of arts venues in the northeast quadrant of the downtown. The plan offered a comprehensive approach to developing the future Arts District, suggesting programmatic strategies and models for a pedestrian-friendly streetscape. The news sent a collective thrill through the local architectural community.

“It had tremendous coverage and what was described sounded like a very exciting concept,” recalled Fulton. “They described it in terms of caf├ęs; they described it in terms of what we now call work/live environment; and it incorporated – and really put on my radar for the first time in an organized way – strategies that today we would call New Urbanist—an intense focus on the street [and] an intense focus on uses. The importance of the architecture was not so much what it was, but the way it defined the street. And it sounded very vibrant and very exciting.”

The boldly ambitious plan, remembered Winters, was a quintessential “grand ‘Dallas’ idea that could only happen here.” He added: “And the fact that they have stayed with the plan, through changing economies, highs and lows. I mean, here were are, over 25 years later and it’s just now being finished. I think that says a lot about the city to stay with something like this and not lose the vision.”

The timing of the announcement was an important factor for its success because it arrived during the real estate boom of the early 1980s. The plan suggested that arts venues be consolidated with an area immediately adjacent to the downtown commercial center, which Sloan said was “a developers’ playground” at that time. While the Sasaki Plan recommended low massing where buildings met the street, he said, managing scale posed a challenge because “there was an impetus to build high and go vertical, and not necessarily be as obedient to a kind of uniform fabric as one might hope.” 

Then, of course, came the real estate crash of the late 1980s and all private development ground to a halt until the close of the millennium.

Read the rest of this article online.

1 comment:

Veletta Forsythe Lill said...

Thanks to Texas Architect magazine for focusing on the Dallas Arts District. We truly appreciate the interest and the information. I did want to clarify one thing about the district. The article opens with “Our discussion began with impressions of the city’s announcement of the Sasaki Plan in 1982 that recommended the consolidation of arts venues in the northeast quadrant of the downtown.” While the Sasaki Plan established the framework and vision for the development of the district, the arts district concept went back to multiple images set forth by Vincent Ponte, planning consultant to the city of Dallas dating back to the 1950’s. The 1977 Carr Lynch Associates planning study actually recommended a concentration of arts venues in the northeast quadrant of downtown. Following that recommendation both the Dallas Museum of Art and the Dallas Symphony moved forward on acquisition, design and construction. The Dallas Arts District Consortium was formed in early 1982 and soon afterward hired Sasaki Associates to create the formal urban design plan. We continue to honor the work of Sasaki Associates for their vision, however, we do want to ensure that other’s contributions are not lost.

Veletta Forsythe Lill
Executive Director, Dallas Arts District