Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chutes n Ladder in Candy Land

Going for a walk.

So last week, I decided to make a leisurely stroll across the River Styx and check out the Arts District myself after all the hubbub of the grand opening had passed and I could be in it, when it actually is (sic). Urban Existentialist-style.

In general, I should provide some background. I was out there about 5 pm on Friday. Perhaps, the entire City was at happy hour, but I must tell you that I counted never more than 13 people outside on or near Flora at one time (in the area of the Meyerson, Winspear, and Wyly). Three of which appeared to be workers on a smoke break, four of whom were valet guys, there were two or three random solos curiously checking out the place (including) myself, and one tour coming out of the Wyly.

In other words, a bit dreary, although the weather didn't help (neither did any of the design work). I'm not going to rant much about the meta-issues of why there is so much FAIL built into the place, but rather the "on-the-ground" details of WTF? that I could touch, feel, and photograph whilst on site. (apologies for the Iphones crappy pics)

Out in front of the Winspear. I was always under the impression that the shading device and the siting of the building towards the back was intended to shade and frame a plaza in front. This plaza has since been carpeted with sod and bizarrely place planters(?). More on that in a bit.

There is no denying that it is a pretty slick structure, with high quality fabrication and material selection.

But, this plaza (not a plaza) is anti-urban. I don't even begin to fathom the purpose of these planters, perhaps besides the screening of the ventilation pipes from the underground heating and cooling of the building. This is hardly an appropriate design solution for what is intended to be "a vibrant, urban destination."

The lone dining/outdoor seating area (not at One Arts Plaza) has been removed from Flora and place back in a nook on the North side of the Winspear (the opposite side of where the outdoor "Artist's Square" will be located. Outdoor dining should have something to look at, the outdoor performance area would have been it...(sigh).

Another look at the ridiculously out of place native grass planting in sterile, placeless, and pointless geometric patterns, non-sequitur planting if you will. Meaning that it was zero relationship to its context. Kind of like each and every one of the building's in the Arts District.
Even the official website is designed with that urban malapropism (if I'm to keep the grammatic narrative metaphor running) in mind:

(The website header: Little toy-scaled model buildings, indiscriminantly placed near each other)

But this isn't a model, it's our city and here we have them, as individual objects, accessed by the far flung via highways, ramps, and garages, just as if one were in Plano, one in FArlington, one in DeSoto (oh, wait - South Dallas wouldn't get that kind of attention), and they have been designed and organized with as much relationship and synergy as if they had been. This does not a City make.

The buildings at this point are what they are, only a coherent and tightly drawn concept for the landscape and streetscape could hold it all together. As of now, we've got some sod and square plantings of native grass, like elbow patches on a tweed jacket.
Warning: Coincidental Anecdote. Relatedly, I was recently touring with a potential client (and a very well-traveled one at that) and the dialogue turned to Fountainplace, the iconic green-glass tower of Downtown Dallas, as it came into view. When I suggested that it was intended to have a mirrored twin, he rightly snapped, "no. It should never have a second one," because it would dilute what is special about the first one.

(Five(!) Calatrava Bridges anyone? I know that number has dwindled considerably but not for 'want to', but for 'can do'. If we can't beat'em, we'll just build more of 'em, I suppose).
Speaking of watering things down, that brings me to the Wyly.

First, I'll get my one compliment out of the way. The idea of the transforming stage/audience platforms is a pretty incredible one, not terribly creative, but one that is a bear to pull off. The Can Do/Should Do question is appropriate here.

As for the rest of it, ie the form and skin, I'm not sure how anybody can possibly like it unless you happen to be starchitectural sycophant, knowing no better or perhaps a masochist that enjoys being laughed out by outside intelligentsia (or maybe even that we are all merely hypnotized by the existential, decontrunctivist gobblety-gook spewed at the presentations, "you descend down the plaza to disorient the audience, and prepare them for what is to come.")

And here we have that plaza. Disorienting only to the conception (or my misconception as Prince-Ramus would probably have me believe) of what a plaza actually is.

"Plaza." For all intents and purposes, language is a symbol. Like the formation of religion, sciences, statistics, etc. it was a tool for explanation. In the wrong hands however, all of these tools (in this case, words) can be twisted, and an audience's understanding of those words and conception of the ideas behind them are used against the audience at the will of the manipulator.

Here, plaza = not a plaza, but some sporadically placed small trees on a ramp lined by barren concrete retaining walls. At this point, I think most words in urban planning have been compromised and ultimately mean nothing more than, "shutup, lemme do what I want. And quite frankly, I don't give a damn about you or your city, beyond using you to express my engrained ideology through objects."

The front door on Ross. More grass. As if it were back in its rightful home of Plano, or FArlington, or you get my point.

Place for people, this ain't. No one will be taking prideful ownership of it. But, rather a lame museum exhibition worthy of visiting once for the shock value as if a Ripley's Freak Show were in town.