Thursday, July 10, 2008

City of Dallas: Stuck on Cartoonchitecture, Mega-Projects, and Starchitects

The winner of the Convention Center Hotel. The development team did the best job putting together their team, I can see no other way for this winning. Pictures say 1,000 words... or in this case, just one: guh.

This brings to mind Two Girls, One Cup (or at least my reaction to it) and how a Pritzker Prize winning architecture firm can come up with something so poor. If I was a prof. and this was a submitted student project I'd sentence said student to the firing squad (and I don't mean a harsh crit, but literally; a real one with bullets of the ouchy, hurty persuasion).

Let us count the ways, shall we:

1) The buildings define no space with the exception of the little circular plaza. This is what we call indefensible space. Buildings don't "own" it or address it, which is what activates it and presents "eyes" on it, thus "protecting" it, making it feel safe.

2) Relatedly, the open space is vastly over-scaled. There are acres of leftover land as suggested "open space" even replete with theoretical people shown in the plan.

3) The circle plaza is generic and doesn't feel enclosed. It faces a generic small office building. Do they really want this as their front door when they could define it and build it themselves?

4) The plaza isn't two sided enough for retail that feeds off each other and generates cross-shopping or synergies. In fact, there isn't enough retail space in this plan to begin with. I know, I know, retail won't work down there. Not yet, which is why we designed boat loads of ground floor "flex space" to be used as meeting rooms until the areas around redevelop. Two-sided retail is needed to make this a destination. It's why the single-sided Victory is struggling. They phased that poorly. This is merely designed poorly.

5) The building, although soft, curvy, and shimmering, is an awful lot like 60's style project towers. How'd they work out? Same problem, indefensible, leftover, undefined space.

6) The creation of pill box residential buildings to a) create a micro-climate - the space between is about 4 acres. That ain't no micro-climate. b) The other pill-box is intended to protect from highway noise - this is a residential building mind you.

7) The buildings have little aka zero relationship to any blocks adjacent, thus spurring no other development. We suggested to the City that this plan only succeeds as part of a larger vision. I guess they dissented. Mega-project to save the day!!!

8) Good thing the tower is there to protect from those awful winter winds in Dallas. First, the average temp in the coldest month is 58 degrees. Second, towers create wind tunnels. Low-rise buildings allow wind currents to pass over and create more temperate micro-climates.

9) The tower is about 800 feet from the Convention Center. I admire their efforts to put the tower out on the corner to make a statement. But, the connection is elevated off the street. This does nothing to address the problems inherent in the current convention center that there is no front door. Visitors are confused, he11, i'm still confused how to get in the thing and I've been there several times.

10) This is what I might call a "selfish building." It is thinking about nothing but itself: not how it relates to adjacent blocks, not how it improves the Convention Center, and certainly not how it might spur redevelopment (other than say I'm pretty, I'm different, look at me -- that wears off quickly). Fad.

The rendering sure is flashy though:

It makes it look as though the Convention Center is actually used more than a handful of times a year. The only way to get that many people on/near the site was to actually create this as the first phase of development of a real mixed-use neighborhood with the Convention Center and Hotel as anchors, NOT merely an object building (although in my initial proposal, I suggested a two-faced design - the postcard view up top and the urban interface at-grade, pedestrian-scaled buildings to relate to the rest of the city).

A couple of diagrams from our schemes (I'll leave out the tower b/c I can't even defend it):

The convention center currently sits by itself, in a sea of gray, like a slug eating its way across the city.

This diagram shows the dual-purpose of the two-faced scheme. First to present an iconic tower to the Trinity River as mentioned above, but also give what is a rather ugly building two front doors by reaching out to the redevelopment successes in downtown and the Cedars.

The plan creates a series of repeatable mixed-use blocks and a direct connection to El Centro College and the West End. The purpose of carving the site up into three smaller blocks is simple. This is an urban site, constrain the design as much as possible even though there are vast amounts of undeveloped blocks around it, b/c there will be development.

Second, it allows for that two-sided retail I mentioned above; necessary in the creation of a destination. Plus, it creates a greater amount of residential, thus providing 24/7 activity.

Third, the repeatable blocks stretch northward and frame the current green squares which are basically useless now without development around them. I don't care if it's a Belo surface parking lot. It needs to redevelop. This is downtown, i.e. no place for a surface lot.

Last, it starts to define a series of interconnected districts like a patchwork quilt, seamlessly stitched together but with clearly defined neighborhood characters. Some of these exist currently, downtown, west end, victory, and the cedars. But, the creation of the Austin Street corridor defines the Convention Center District, while the future DART line by City Hall spurs redevelopment around City Hall Plaza in a Civic District.

Lastly, the green represents a new deck park over a sunken portion of Stemmons Freeway, linking the Convention Center to the Cedars and repositioning the southern part of the Convention Center and its underutilized parcels for future park front development. The future Woodall Rogers Deck Park is already spurring development along it, an ROI if you will.

This clearly has to be the last phase for a few reasons. First, downtown is a more important connection than the Cedars, more hotels, more retail, more restaurants, hell, it's downtown. Second, the connection is far easier and cheaper.

But, this is coming from a guy who wants to rip out most of the freeways. Someday.