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 cafés; 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.”
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.