CRIT KIT

How to look at a building

THOMAS JEFFERSON was right. Our only defense against tyranny-including the tyranny of ugliness-is an educated public. With this mission in mind, I went to see Toronto planners Jack Diamond and Kevin Garland when they were in Dallas recently, and I asked them how we could become better judges of buildings. We met at the end of the day at the Stoneleigh P, superbly restored by John Mullen after a fire destroyed it a few years ago.

Diamond and Garland were reassuring about our prospects for a genuinely urbane, humane atmosphere. They propose that we need only to follow a few simple precepts. If, as some suggest, a city is no better than its buildings, we all need to become more practiced at evaluating new constructio.

1. Does it fit into the fabric of the surrounding area-as background if appropriate-instead of ripping apart the neighborhood with demands for attention? Does it fit well into the framework in which it lives? Does it animate the street with shop fronts and excitement? Does it pick up on the themes of its neighbors-echoing style, color, texture, line? Does it overshadow nearby parks or gardens? Does it spoil privacy for neighboring buildings? Or, on the negative side, does it produce glare with a narcissistic excess of mirrored glass?

Does the building protect pedestrians from wind, rain and heat with canopies and overhangs? Are the interior spaces comfortable?

Is the building technically well-made? Is it energy-efficient?

Are the materials carefully chosen? Do they work together? Do the proportions satisfy?

Does the building fulfill expectations for its function? If it’s a bank, does it look like a bank? Or a church? Does it allude sufficiently to historic precedent to be comprehensible?

Does the building represent a reasonable allocation of resources? A concert hall, moderate-income housing, a department store and a school require points of economic emphasis. Did the builders understand their assignment and fulfill it in a way that was affordable, profitable and useful?

How do you feel about the building? Does it exude taste and intelligence and give you hope for the day’s transactions? Does it make you happy and proud to be in Dallas?

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