Monday, October 31, 2011

Plazas: Best and Worst

These are difficult lists to make. Who has actually visited every single plaza and public space in the world whether physically or virtually (ie google earth)? And even then, what is the criteria? Is it entirely subjective? How an individual writer enjoyed the place? Or are there some objective metrics at play? And if so, what was the methodology? Is it land value? Number of pedestrians? Revenue of the interfacing ground floor commercial spaces? One measurement I've used in the past is number of geotagged photos are uploaded into google earth of a place. People like to share the places they love, therefore "lovable places" have a density of photos.

None of these questions are answered by the Atlantic Cities and the analysis is limited (unless you dig into the PPS database), but the best part about that is you can make your own lists:

Link to their top 10 and bottom 10. Dallas is spared from either. However, if I were to select the best and worst public plazas in DFW, I'm first dumbstruck by how few actual public squares there are, but that is what happens when the form of cities is exploded from one of corridors and openings, solids and voids, to endless voids punctuated by object buildings. There no longer are outdoor rooms that provide a counterpoint to the more closed in corridors, creating breathing space to some extent.

However, that paints the corridors in less than ideal language and that couldn't be less of the case. The closer in corridors allow for increased cross shopping and density of synergism. Then when these corridors converge, lots of people end up in one space, hence the need for a greater opening, plazas at significant location.

Here are some of my best and worst of DFW:

Bad suburban - One of the interesting parts of the "suburban" category is that they'll actually be quite urban because as I said, suburban form doesn't yield the form of squares and plazas that are integrated with built surroundings. Therefore, in this context I will use "suburban" as a locational tool, meaning Not downtowns Dallas or Not Fort Worth.

Garland Town Square. An interesting and telling note here, all of the photos in Google Earth at this square are of the Art Deco Theater. Nobody pointing their camera towards the plaza. When visiting, you wonder why anybody would even go down into the space when the street is far more comfortable. If you buy William Whyte's work, he warned against sunken plazas, in that people are more comfortable pausing to sit and watch from elevated or periphery positions, not from within the fish bowl effect of a central sunken place.

Bad Urban. JP Morgan Chase - Similar rules apply, except magnified. There are many many many more people in downtown Dallas than in downtown Garland at any given time, perhaps on a 1000x order of magnitude. But then the effect of the sunken plaza is intensified by the 70-story tower looming over it.

I actually think it could be quite successful if it were filled in. I always liked the potential of the little dome outfront on Ross Avenue as a Campanile of sort, providing a bit of form to the plaza. Of course, that plaza has to interface better with it, rather than being 20-feet below. Notice, picture, no people. Though, I expect this might be a popular smoking locale for office workers.
Dome at the JPMorgan Chase Tower

Bad Urban. Wyly Theater.

One of the few images actually facing out from inside, it illustrates the kind of place only architects can appreciate because of the grading gymnastics accomplished. People don't like to be gymnasts unless they're parkour enthusiasts.
Winspear Opera House

So of course the rendering filled it with people. People like places with other people in it. Only problem is these people are photoshopped. They're entirely theoretical. Nobody is ever in this space. Furthermore, the fundamental problem is it interacts/interfaces with but one building. There aren't 'faces' on multiple sides that interact and energize the space. It is one ticket office that is used once every so often during events and two walls on either side.

Good Urban. AT&T Plaza. I believe that to be the official name, not to be confused with the other AT&T Plaza at the American Airlines Center. It helped that AT&T relocated into downtown Dallas and filled up the better part of the surrounding buildings, but what helped even moreso was the removal of the dreadful stone bus shelters. Not that bus shelters are bad, but they interrupted the visual and physical porosity into the space. Humans are repelled from spaces they can't see into. The best trait of this space however is the microclimate created. I have sat in this space in the middle of the Texas Summer heat and have witnessed many others doing the same. It might be 105 degrees elsewhere, but due to the shade, the breeze, and the water, it feels about 20 degrees cooler.

To be continued...feel free to add suggestions.