Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Victory: Defeat. A Potemkin Village

My unit in Victory. When should we mention that every unit in the W tower is owned by men?

Ok. I have had an empty link at the side of this page for about a year now with the promise of analyzing (at the time) why Victory would fail. Failing is such a harsh word, but it has in many ways thus far, particularly when compared to the promise and hype. Ultimately, given the amount of investment it will get rolled back into the city fabric it tried to avoid like a little kid squirming away from something icky to prevent catching cooties from...what? Authenticity?

Well, we still haven't created that part yet either. Hopefully, it will begin spreading from very true urbanism, embodied by State Thomas. A place I have long called the best piece of reinvigorated authentic urbanity. We'll come back to this neighborhood when the author of the article does.

Thanks to Lindsey who forwarded me this article from D Magazine:

The Failure of Victory Park.
"It is sleek, chic, and modernist. Translated,
that means it is cold, barren, and unfriendly."
The writer Wick Allison hits on all the points I've caught hell for in places like on Dallas Metropolypse, suggesting the architecture belongs in somewhere in the antiseptic third act of the 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the W was still a 2-dimensional imagination, I had this to say:
"looks like Kubrick's vision of a dystopic future."
Clearly, I need new movies to reference. Next time I discuss Millennials, I will reference Juno. I promise.

God forbid I dare critique ANY new development because ALL development is good development. I guess this City has fallen so far that we ARE desperate for something, anything. Even if deep in our bones we know the flaws embedded in the work, usually stemming from compromises made with engineers or 80's style developers set in their ways.

That wasn't the case with Victory, however. From the outset of design, mistakes were made. First of all, the designer of American Airlines Arena, and Fort Worth hero David Schwarz sited the venue oddly. "Let's cant it. Ya know, to be different." Forcing every block around it to accommodate oddly configured shapes and patterns forming a mish mash of grids, former grids, and irregularities.

Next, most importantly and by design, the City was excluded. Presumably, a developer led decision, they chose NOT to be a part of the City, by re-routing roads and proposed DART alignments to avoid Victory as much as possible. Lesson: You can't be exclusive in the 21st century city, isolating yourself as a development prevents it from ever becoming a neighborhood, which all known and successful places are at their root. You might as well cut off your own hand and plant it in the ground hoping for it to sprout a body.
Now take a look at State Thomas. Say what you will about what happened to the historic neighborhood, but the destruction was from Office speculation in the 80's that ripped apart the largely African-American neighborhood that was there. The current development was about curing the destruction.
"To see Jacob's ideas at work in Dallas, go to the corner of Allen and State in Uptown, and walk down either street. You will see buildings constructed on a human scale, out of natural materials, with narrow side streets."
It's not coincidental that the writer picked the same intersection that I often describe as the best part of the City. Re-investment brought about by the first TIF in Texas saved this portion of Dallas when there WAS no "uptown". It created uptown. Now that it has been colonized by yuppies is time to create more supply of urbanism.

Back to Victory. There are other flaws, but ultimately they all come back to that decision to disconnect although it is hard to blame them. There was very little TO connect to nearby. The transportation network was/IS a disaster, LoMac in particular. So they had to create a neighborhood all to themself and frankly that is typical of Dallas area development.

The roads are SO bad (meaning hostile and inhumane) that you have to play defense. You have to create a destination so great to literally pull people into your site off those bad streets. In a future post I have outlined, I will write about how "We Will Never have a Fifth Ave., Champs Elysees, or Michigan Ave." With that said, transportation always comes first and building and development are a reaction. If you don't get it right, you fail.

To create their destination they relied strictly on what was inside the walls, events at AAC, Ghost Bar, the now defunct n9ne, not the space between the walls, which is what people remember, where the return to, and what really creates "place." It is (near?) impossible to create a lasting and true place this way. At the very least, Victory teaches us lessons.

So what else went wrong? Let's count the ways shall we...

1. Road Alignment - Have you noticed that the most prominent open space, AT&T Plaza terminates Field St. Houston St., the one that Victory essentially uses as a service drive. This is one of the bad roads Victory has to pull people from, except the back feels more like the front and the retail is in the back, which is actually the front... I'm confused. Exactly.

2. Block Size - The blocks are too narrow to create efficient buildings. Don't get me wrong efficiency should never be the mark by which anything is judged, but it's probably still wise to be cost effective. The buildings are about 140-145' wide. A garage is 120' minimum width, leaving barely, and I mean BARELY enough to get some liner use there. This is particularly important if they are going to be completely crazy and try to park each building individually in an area with thousands of empty parking spaces. So it means that everybody has to be pulled way up on top of the garages and away from the streetscapes.

3. Phasing - They built everything on one side of the street. Retail more than any other use needs more of itself nearby. Mall designers and retailers have very specific dimensions to make retail cross shop and create spin-off business, aka synergy. It's the one good things malls have done for us beyond nostalgia for Gen-Xers. Not unexpectedly, the retail tenants move out and/or close down one by one.

The built form created by the W and its in-line brethren act more like a curtain of urbanity, a facade of "cool". Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain however. In fact, this seems a lot like Dallas' reputation anyway. So it DOES work in a Koolhaasian nihilistic sort of way. If this was meant, it would be a genius work of art. I'm guessing this was actually a happy little accident.

4. Retail Programming/Branding - Too much testosterone. Even the developers admit it. And yes, all men bought in the W.

5. Lifeless Architecture - Stale, antiseptic, lifeless. You choose the descriptor. The D Mag article covers this.

6. Streetscape - Doesn't soften the hard edges of the buildings enough. I'm willing to reserve judgment until the rest is built here.

7. Park - Here I'm referring to the little dog-shitting venue in front of the House by Stark and Yoo. Now I have talked up the virtues of dogshit on this blog previously. No, seriously. This doesn't feel like a public park. There is a wall and grade change disconnecting it from the street. And no street in front of the buildings it serves makes it feel like theirs...which, in fact, it is. That's the point. Ours, not yours. Stay away from our happy little retail development you tens of thousands of daily visitors to AAC.

Someday when I get more time perhaps I can put together some sketches of the areas around Victory in attempt to pull it off its island.