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Architecture and the Rodeo Driving of Dallas
By Lee Cullum |

“ART,” SAID ARCHITECTURE critic Ada Louise Huxtable, “is the style of an age. Art never lies. It tells us exactly what we are.” That was eight years ago, when Huxtable was in Dallas speaking at an anniversary celebration for the Dallas Public Library. At that time, she pronounced I.M. Pei’s City Hall a great building, but there wasn’t much else to talk about architecturally in the Dallas of 1976.

But now all that has changed, and we’re living in a building boom of sufficient volume and interest to support the career of another architecture critic, David Dillon, whose work brings almost daily distinction to The Dallas Morning News. A regular reading of Dillon’s column will tell you that our city would benefit mightily from a crash course in urban design.

Not that you can’t find some good architecture in Dallas; you can. Pei has added One Dallas Centre and the ARCO building to his designs downtown. And he’s been more than matched by Edward Larrabee Barnes’ Dallas Museum of Art and Skid-more, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) LTV Center. Now, SOM of Houston is about to weigh in with 2200 Ross, and the plans are breathtakingly beautiful. And Pei’s Fountain Place and his new concert hall hold much promise.

These are splendid solitary performances, but in them lies a danger. Some architects, goaded by clients who want their buildings to be noticed and therefore leased, are trying too hard to be distinctive. Instead of echoing the ambiance around them, these architects are inventing unseemly displays that make you wish for the wrecking bar.

Some downtown buildings have managed to create a quiet, unobtrusive presence. First City Center (WZMH Group Inc.) and Lincoln Plaza (Harwood K. Smith) come to mind. Content to be what they are, they make their neighborhoods more than they were. These buildings will endure, and they will be sought out long after tenants have fled from flashier addresses.

What makes a district pleasing? It isn’t a cluster of great buildings. They seldom occur in clusters. It’s the harmonious exchange of compatible ideas that makes an area like the West End sing. The same thing can happen on the Near East Side if good projects like the Adam Hat Building aren’t done in by politics.

It’s gratifying that the art of restoration is finally taking hold in Dallas. Founders Square (Jarvis/Putty/Jarvis), the White Swan Building (Dahl, Braden, Chapman & partners) and the Plaza Theater (Auger & Associates) are important contributions to our collective memory.

But there aren’t going to be many memories left in Oak Lawn, where the disruptions are rampant and often badly out of scale with the neighborhood. Nonetheless, there are some encouraging signs. Shepherd & Boyd’s Oak Lawn Bank is a handsome recollection of Louis Sullivan’s Midwestern banks of the early 1900s. And just down the street, at 3311 Oak Lawn, Ken Hughes’ project (offices, retail space and Parigi’s restaurant-also by Shepherd & Boyd) offers a witty variation on the Roman arched carriageway, which allows for parking in back. I hope Hughes does as well with his makeover of the Quadrangle, although I’m nervous about the addition of office towers at that location.

At Summers Associates’ new offices on Cedar Springs at Carlisle, Dickson Wells Architects designed a graceful replacement for two old houses. Their homey, upbeat, two-story frame building with wood lap siding and glass bricks has balconies that permit real estate deals to be made overlooking the street. Not far away, on Lemmon near Central, the Oglesby Group’s latest structure-the Charles B. Key Cataract Surgery Center-is a happy marriage of green glass and Texas limestone applied in rectangles. The four porthole windows in front and the detailed handwork all around show how a simple structure can become a pleasure in the hands of a competent architect.

But the news is not all good. Turtle Creek, our natural showplace, is on the verge of catastrophe. And CITYPLACE, for all its remarkable ambition, remains a worry, especially the elevated bridge over troubled Central. Can’t they go under the expressway to connect those two towers?

But at least CITYPLACE is operating on a level of aspiration that permits discussion. There’s seldom such luck in Far North Dallas. It’s clear as you drive up Dallas Parkway that we haven’t figured out yet what to do about suburban office towers. They have no relationship to the street and no relationship to each other. Too many of them stand alone and disconnected from the world around them while demanding to be noticed.

The problem can often be the client. There’s too much of the client in many of our buildings and too little of the architect, according to Jack Corgan, whose firm designed the handsome American Airlines Southern Reservations Office. “If you put yourself into a building,” he says, “it will be better.” Perhaps a more personal style of architecture, realized with a sense of district, is what we need in Dallas.

This month, D is honoring its second Dallasite of the Year. As we carefully pondered who should succeed Ross Perot as the winner of this award, we tracked the important things that have happened in Dallas in 1984. The new museum opened, thanks to the efforts of Margaret McDermott, Harry Parker, the late Betty Marcus, George Charlton and countless others. DART was launched under the leadership of Adlene Harrison. Southern Dallas was promised new life by Mayor Starke Taylor and his special task force. And Dick Motta’s Dallas Mavericks brought us hours of excitement.

But we finally concluded that the biggest event of the year-the one that made 1984 memorable-was the Republican National Convention. Many people worked to make it happen: Fred Meyer, Trammell Crow, Jack Evans, Bill Cooper and thousands of others. But it was the Dallas Welcoming Committee, with its non-partisan effort by all sorts of people, that turned a partisan convention into a festival for all of Dallas. Dave Fox chaired the Welcoming Committee, and he is our Dallasite of the Year.

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