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THE CARPETBAGGERS

By D Magazine |

TWO OTHER DALLAS design firms are poised to break away from the local architectural pack. They are firms that have only recently set up shop here and that have yet to alter our landscape with their visions. One, Rossetti Associates, is a branch of a top-flight Detroit-based firm. The other, George Woo, only recently broke away from the Dallas office of I.M. Pei.

Rossetti Associates was, in effect, lured to Dallas by Ross Perot, whose architectural competition to do the EDS headquarters in Piano called for a design that was “unique and unforgettable.” The solution submitted by Rossetti was certainly that: a sleek steel cylinder flanked by low buildings in a spread-wing pattern. The structures seemed to hover over the ground, deliberately calling attention to the flatness of the terrain.

The EDS design was never built. “The biggest challenge in Dallas,” says chief designer Phil Dangerfield, “is to find the right client. You can only do as much as the client will allow.” Fewer freeway buildings and more projects in “a significant context” is the firm’s blueprint for the future. Right now, it is involved in a project with “context” to spare: a block in Oak Lawn with shops, restaurants, an office building and apartments.

When George Woo broke off a lengthy association with Pei to open an office of his own, he did so with some trepidation. Accustomed to working on projects that cost $35 to $150 million, he found himself with no clients lined up, prepared to struggle for two years.

While with Pei, Woo had a hand in designing the Mobil research lab in Farmers Branch, a building described by critic David Dillon as “one of the few buildings in this area that frankly acknowledges that scientists and engineers are people too.” A striking vacation house he designed in the Yucatan won an Architectural Record award.

It was Woo who conceptualized the oft-criticized City Hall Plaza, a space envisioned to symbolize Dallas’ grand aspirations. In fact, the plaza is considered too big, too bare, too scorched in the heat of Dallas’ strong sun. Having lived in Dallas since, Woo has learned something about our summers. At his insistence, Pei’s Fountain Place, now under construction downtown, will have a different kind of public plaza-a water garden.

Woo is optimistic about his future in this competitive marketplace: “I hope to be the best design firm in Dallas in five years.”