Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dallas: The Making of...Not the TV show. Nor the other one.

Or how to make a very, or the mostest of, Dallas problems and make it more of one.

WFAA picked up a story I first tweeted a few weeks back when some residents of One Arts Plaza made me aware of the 20-30 minutes of death ray their cheerios receive each morning directly from the eye of Museum Tower.  Therein, WFAA cites the attorney Tom Luce, hired to mediate the differences, saying he hopes to arrive at an agreement in secret.

And that's the problem.  I suspect given the $ at stake and the egos involved, that may very well be impossible.  Beyond that even, nor should it be possible because the ramifications of the arbitration are extensive.

Here is the thing, the "Dallas" problem I referred to, is the inability for two properties and their property owners/developers to coordinate in a way that coalesces two separate entities/buildings/properties into a greater whole.  Where the pieces of the puzzle fit together and create a living, breathing picture.  This stems from a long history and misguided interpretation of property rights.  In other words, "whateva, whateva, I do what I want."

The Museum Tower project never made sense to me financially, particularly within the framework of demand and placemaking.  It's the public realm and buildings that engage the public realm that provides the glue to bringing the various pieces of the puzzle together.  It's the role of urbanists in the 21st century to move the modus operandi for development from one of self-interest to enlightened self-interest. Developers and investors (particularly if the city has a stake) have an incentive towards not just a participatory process, but a participatory form of building.

Museum Tower, and BELO Gardens with its wall of spite, however exquisitely detailed the two of them might be miss this larger point.  That their investments are better off participating within their context rather than ignoring them, if not worse.  We've fetishized detailed design while ignoring the larger, and far more valuable, picture.

In Museum Tower's case, this actually means ruining both public and private realms surrounding it, which raises the long-term need for 1) public discourse and 2) potentially legal precedent related to zoning/building codes that addresses how far we're willing to let a building negatively effect its surroundings (in this case, in the name of design expression and subjective aesthetics).

Furthermore, this should open up a discussion of what is the appropriate way to build in hot, dry, sunny, windy climates.  I assure you, tall buildings that expose the majority of the facades to both sun and wind, as well as the streets below (if not amplify the sun and wind, which most do), is not the best way.

I suspect this gets at a broader discussion of architecture, particularly the "globalized" architecture of buildings that look like they could go anywhere.  Merely copying Vancouver's glassy, point towers is not appropriate, as those towers are meant, in part, to allow sun down to the street level, because they get so very little of it. And making shiny buildings because "Dallas likes glitzy," treats us with all the respect of a little kid attracted to shiny things.  Can we put them in our mouth too?

Beyond that, the design of the tower brings up architecture's role and understanding in relation to urbanism, value, and financially successful buildings for many of the reasons mentioned above.  In the name of self-expression, the architect Scott Johnson, undercut the value of the surroundings and therefore diminished the value of the building itself by doing so.

And to complicate matters, it's the city's police and fire pensions on the hook for this calamity and therefore, taxpayers.  Something tells me we need a few more people in decision-making roles that actually understand how cities, as systems work, not just how to best navigate the labyrinthine politics associated