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Architecture & Design

Trashing the ‘Uptown Special’

In honor of a new collection of writings by David Dillon, the DMN's current critic details the offences of Dallas' ubiquitous banal apartment blocks

It’s a subject we’ve tackled from time to time: the plague of offensively banal apartment buildings that are sprouting up around Dallas. The city’s ongoing urbanization is synonymous with cheap, trashy construction of ugly apartment blocks that will crumble into blight in 25 to 30 years. But we haven’t trashed the architectural trend with as much attention to detail as Mark Lamster, tireless book promoter and architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News.

In an homage to his predecessor, long-time DMN architecture critic David Dillon, who trashed the 1990s McMansions he dubbed the “North Dallas Special,” Lamster has produced a nifty graphic that picks apart every architectural sin committed by the the apartment trend he now brands the “Uptown Special.” Here’s the gist:

In a 1994 column, David Dillon graphically cataloged the design ills of what he called the “North Dallas Special,” now better known as the McMansion, a type that was then coming to define the region’s sprawling suburbs. In that spirit, we once again look to a type that is coming to dominate building in this region, the generic four- to five-story greige apartment block. It is sometimes known as the Dallas Donut (because they can be hollow blocks with parking in the center), but we’re calling it the Uptown Special, as it is there that their presence first emerged in bulk, although they are now to be found across the city and suburbs.

The graphic is great. And there’s another reason to head over to the DMN to read Lamster’s piece. In it, the critic discusses the debt the city owes to the late-Dillon, who wrote about this city for the News from 1981 until 2006 (and occasionally contributed to D). Dillon’s insight challenged the city’s status quo and helped enrich Dallas’ sense of place and identity–its “conscience,” as New York Times and New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger said of Dillon in 2012.

Everyone who writes or reads about Dallas owes a good deal of their perspective to Dillon’s writings. The good news is those writings will soon become more accessible. The University of Texas Press is publishing a new collection of Dillon’s writing, The Open-Ended City: David Dillon on Texas Architecture. Buy it here.

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