Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Welcome to "ToonTown" - The Dallas Arts District

Trust me, the irony of using the name "ToonTown," borrowed from Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not lost on me. The movie essentially depicts the history of american streetcars, as Judge Doom purchases the "Red Car" in order to shut it down so everyone is forced to drive on the new highway, proposed to go right thru ToonTown. From Wiki:

Doom reveals his master plan to them. He admit that he is the sole stockholder of Cloverleaf Indurstries, and that he is buying up properties along a proposed freeway route, including Toontown, the Acme Company, and the Maroon Cartoons studio, for commercial development. Doom has also purchased the Pacific Electric Railway (nicknamed "the Red Car") in order to shut it down so that people will have to use the freeway and his businesses. (This storyline is based on the General Motors streetcar conspiracy, an alleged effort to dismantle public transportation systems throughout the U.S.) Doom then explains that he'll retiree being a judge and start controlling the profits for the new road system.

My use of "ToonTown" however, is intended to be far less flattering than the cherished versions the toons sought to protect in the academy award winner. Rather, it is meant pejoratively for the simple-mindedness of the planning and design of the Dallas Arts District and the brazen yet hollow nature of the architecture masquerading as some sort of brilliant metaphysical manifestation tapped into by a cult of personality architects.

The Arts District is bounded by Ross Avenue to the South, the proposed destination of a possible modern street car line similar to that of Portland (which would be a great connection to Lower Greenville - and would spur some badly needed revitalization on Ross outside of DTD), [I'll say] St. Paul Ave. and the new Hunt Oil Building to the West, Woodall Rogers Freeway and the eventual Deck park to the North and the 75 interchange to the East.

The fundamental problem with the Masterplan, as illustrated above, is that lack of other uses. It has been described by one colleague as "cultural pad sites" making the direct comparison to the lifeless sterility of corporate chains. Another described these buildings accurately as "screaming babies all calling out for attention."

Other uses provide two critical, but missing components, first, is around-the-clock vitality stimulated by a mix of uses (particularly residential and office - both of which are in and around the area but not particularly well- or adroitly integrated into the district). Who will be in this area when not for special events? I was at the AT&T plaza last night for the summer theatre showing of Jaws and I was struck by the fact that noone would ever be in this plaza for not specially programmed events. That is hardly a truly urban experience, but rather one that feels suspiciously staged, much like other large, corporate attempts at urbanism - here and here.

Similar to this concept, we work on stadiums throughout the country attempting to create a district around what IS an activity generator, CAN BE an amenity, but without other development is merely an "empty box". This is what was attempted at Victory, but that should be saved for its own post.

The second missing component that other uses, particulaly when designed with a sense of context and humility provide the adequate backdrop that allows specially designed buildings to shine as monuments. This is why Bilbao was so successful (or too successful because either everybody wants a poor facsimile the same thing or Gehry is stuck on the same thought process). Without contextual urbanity, there is no coherence amongst the cacophony. When architects merely try to "out-crazy" the other, what is next? Oh, that - no I'm not bitter about losing. I hate blobutecture. Our hotel design was weak, but our masterplan for that part of the city was FAR stronger.

Now, onto the indivdual buildings. There are some gems, particularly the Nasher Sculpture Center by Renzo Piano. I particularly admire Renzo for his ability to both design and construct, a lost art today where architects are either of one brain (left) or the other (right). This is a building designed with grace, humility, style, and 350,000 custom-made roofing elements that drove the project WAY over its original budget. Good to have Ray Nasher's money, I suppose. The weakness of the project are the walls along three-sides of the garden, necessary for security, I know, and someone in the design process attempted to mitigate this thru the use of windows, but still...

The next building, that I also admit that I rather like, is the Winspear Opera House. This building was sited properly and is certainly distinctive. The goal for this building is LEED-NC gold certification, which remains to be seen as far as I know, but once again its ability to "stand out" is diminished by the recklessness around it.

The artists plaza...the Winspear is able to be iconic while still framing space - something a certain somebody else couldn't do...for that scroll down...

Under construction, the Winspear is quite the sight terminated Leonard Street.

Now a few steps backward to the two bookends. First, is the brand spankin' new Hunt Oil building which has only caught fire once (when the "tube" (shaft?) was lit up all rainbow colory - I wish I had a picture of it when it was lit that way). Extremely expensive materials went into this building, but at the end of the day, it looks a bit like a student project that tried to fit all of their competing ideas into one project. Furthermore, the exterior landscaping feels like it belongs in an Addison office park. Hardly downtown.

The Borg has landed. You will all be assymilated.

Aye. My favorite. And by "favorite," I mean piece of dogshit where the architect should be treated to a game of "prison rules". But, I reserve the right to change my mind after it gets built, but it ain't lookin' likely.

This is the favorite game of the architect. Put yer' building in the middle of the site and place theoretical people around it. Who are they really designing for when they treat land as merely a canvas for their personal expression? Properly sited and designed buildings within urban contexts frame space. This just assumes all of those people will gather in a sunken ramp to hell "plaza." If Rem read his William Whyte, he would know sunken plazas fail...particularly ones that aren't plazas at all.

I love the loading truck on the back of the rendering by the way.

Reading Rem, he has a tendency to write and say all the right things about urbanism and urbanity but then completely miss the point when it comes to practice, as if the nihilist label that some have given him, is so appropriate that he believes his own statements as utter bullshit.
Let's take a look at some of the other wondrous works OMA has unleashed on the world, besides the Seattle Public Library, which I have been in and is great if you like obnoxiously loud reading rooms and vertigo inducing buildings, everything one would want in a public library!

Great googily moogily, what is that? I particularly appreciate post-apocalyptic Louisville, KY. I'm sure the people of Louisville do as well.

Oh, I get it, it's an AT-AT from Star Wars coming to destroy all urban fabric.
This is an actual diagram from Joshua Ramus's website (lead designer for the Dallas building). I'm not sure that I would advertise that my entire concept consists of flipping the city upside down. Truly brilliant fella.

The way they design is as facile as the joke about Frank Gehry crumpling up paper for inspiration. I gave up legos when I was eight. How about you?
Rem and Joshua "Prince" Ramus. I sh!t you not. This fool goes by "prince." I guess "The Designer" was already taken, but in French apparently, and with equal humility.

The hand of God adapts the City as he sees fit.

Be afraid child, be very afraid for he might be commissioned to do a building in your city.

People get sick in buildings like these.

Proposed Arts Tower, which is supposed to go within an off-ramp loop. I have my doubts as to whether it will ever get built. There just isn't the market for all the solely high end density being built in the City. Did I mention I was in Victory last night and there might have been 5-10% of the residential units with lights on and/or plants/furniture/some signs of life on the balconies.

I'm pissed. Time to look at something more interesting, like Tanner Springs Park in the Pearl District of downtown Portland, where a natural wetland was recreated in an urban square.

I rate the Pearl District in Portland 8.5 babies for livability on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Baghdad, 2 being Arlington, and 10 being Copenhagen.
Dallas Arts District: Incomplete until further construction.