Monday, April 4, 2011

David Dillon on the Crescent

Once again, the late David Dillon's work still holds up to this day, unlike most of the buildings he wrote about, which still stand in only the physical sense of the word. See the link for full transcript, relevant portions below (indented) w/ my commentary after each passage:

(h/t to Brandon at Authentic Dallas for sending this along)
...between the big idea and the particular details lies enough hedging and backstepping to rob the Crescent of its clarity and conviction. It seems the product of several architectural visions, which often as not conflict rather than complement one another.
Geez David. I feel like you are writing about almost every "urban" or urbanesque project built in Dallas over the last 30 years. The idea and advantage (including from an investment standpoint) of urban must be lost on the developers, financiers, etc. entirely, while the "density" portion of the pro forma looks good to them, which is how we end up with urbanesque. See: the Crescent, Victory, Museum Tower, Convention Center Hotel, Park Lane Place, ALL of Lower McKinney area around the Ritz, etc. and you'll see projects that put forth density, but when actual urbanity may or may not have entered the conversation, the pool water became too cold to dip more than a toe in.

This is something I find both ironic and tragic of Dallas development. We have the pretensions of boldness, but somewhere that gets compromised between the fundamental tenets of traditional and fully functional urbanism being, I dunno, not different enough, where different is absurdly conflated with "visionary" and short-sighted financial outlook when much greater gain can be found with long-term investment strategies of placemaking.
Because the site lies midway between downtown and Park Cities, part urban and part suburban, the architects attempted to keep a foot in both worlds.
Geez David times 2. I swear I have written this exact same thing about several projects, including the general thesis of my above two paragraphs. You can't compromise. And being urban doesn't mean that it has to be dense. It means that each element in the equation (each building, road, and public space) must relate to each other uninterrupted by physical and perceptual barriers, both inside a particular development as well as beyond its property lines. Here is the equation we go for Density (urban) + Security (suburban) = Development Loser. Mostly because we think "security" means, "must put fences around things," both literally and figuratively.
Along Cedar Springs and Maple -- potentially lively pedestrian promenades -- the Crescent shops are separated from the sidewalk by several rows of parking. There is no edge, no sharp delineation of street and building. Along Pearl Street, the main link to downtown, the project moons the public with ramps, parking lots, loading docks and what is probably the world's first French Classical drive-in bank. A grove of trees at the intersection of Pearl and McKinney is inadequate to screen this clutter from view. In working so hard to create a private interior world at the Crescent, the architects have haphazardly treated the edges where the project meets the rest of the city.
This too could apply to just about any project in the city, which is why attempts at urbanity become actual anti-urbanity, vacuums of places that suck people in for while until the newness wears off. Pearl and McKinney is essentially the "main and main" intersection of uptown Dallas, if not the entire city at this point. To not capitalize on the energy of the intersection is criminal.

All of this reminds me of the scene in My Architect where the son of Louis Kahn meets with Ed Bacon on the streets of Philadelphia (go ahead, admit it. I just implanted that song in your head for the rest of the day. Good night and good luck). In Bacon's words (and paraphrasing from memory: "No goddammit! That is the problem with Kahn and the AIA today. They always thought their building was more important than the larger system." I couldn't have said it better myself Ed, but perhaps with more sailor swearing.

This isn't just on the architects and developers, of course. In many ways, they are merely reacting to the hand they were dealt by city traffic engineers. If two roads of an intersection find their way onto the thoroughfare plan, they are surely to be dreadful road designs thinking only of moving traffic past as quickly as possible. As we know, to create a center of gravity, a place people are attracted to and want to stay in, you must "condense energy into a slow vibration." That is science speak for calm the damn traffic and design streets for people.

See the rest of Dillon's words at the link which includes the wonderful phrase, "architectural psoriasis."