Texas Architect July/Aug 2008: Regional Response
Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other editorial content largely written by AIA members in Texas. That collective participation was the basis of Texas Architect’s recognition by the national AIA with a 2010 Institute Honor for Collaborative Achievement.
texas architect 7/8 2008 16 Cloepfil Addresses Dallas Forum On Booker T. washington school d a l l a s As part of the events celebrating the opening of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the Dallas Architectural Foundation invited Brad Cloepfil to speak about his firm’s project located in the Dallas Arts District. Cloepil, principal of Allied Works in Portland, Ore., presented the lecture on June 6 at the Dallas Museum of Art. Cloepfil’s skills as a speaker easily communicate the ideas and processes that inform the work of his firm. Viewed within the context of Allied Works’ prodigious recent output (primarily of crisp, minimalist museums) BTW stands as almost an anomaly—a lyrical, happy anomaly. Cloepfil’s presentation began with an expla- nation of the concerns Allied Works attempts to address and resolve in its design work. He categorized these as issues relating to resolu- tion, forces, occupation, editing, and domain. For Allied Works, resolution is the contrast between the crystalline architectural idea of the second half of the twentieth century (characterized in the lecture by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House) and the actual experience of a work of architecture. In seeking to understand the influences that render the building or place specific to its site, Allied Works studies its surroundings and considers how these forces can be manifested in the design. He explained occupation as the way the building is given the opportunity to occupy a specific place, and the architect’s understanding of the discipline and rigor with which this occupation can vary the perception of the space. It also seeks to extend a dialogue to the surrounding context through mediation with other things besides the build- ing itself. Cloepfil provided the example of art in a museum which allows people another way to engage the building through an intermedi- ary. Editing deals with what Cloepfil called the violence of intervention that building a building does to a place. By building something you are distinguishing things about a place. Domain asks what a building can create for itself by initiating a dialogue with its context. Cloepfil illustrated each of these avenues of investigation with a project, examples from an impressive and consistently engaging body of work largely completed since Allied Works was first awarded the commission to design the Booker T. Washington High School. For the most part, these buildings, most set in urban locations across the country, clearly demon- strate crystalline ideas in both a literal and philosophical sense—despite his comments to the contrary. The buildings are too carefully executed, too beautifully made to be anything other than self-conscious objects to be admired and engaged with some level of awe. For all of Cloepfil’s earnest embrace of the ideas of the firm, the end products can be categorized as a collection of serene and transcendent spaces, clearly cool and aloof repositories for art. The exception is Booker T. Washington, the one project he illustrated that obviously embodies all that Cloepfil strives to achieve. The High School differs from the rest of the work in the mysterious nature of its organiza- tion and in its dark color. Unlike the other projects shown, Booker T. Washington has a “green room” (the central courtyard) at its heart, rather than landscape on its periphery. The outdoor room is a place to make art and to learn, a place where students can get their hands dirty and work up a sweat. It is not a place for the quiet contemplation of work already done. It’s the difference between a laboratory and a treasure chest. While his other projects felt familiar, despite their excellence, Booker T. Washington did not. Cloepfil discussed the school’s more than 80-year dialogue with its site and the city, and how that had changed over time. In his visits to the school, he said, he was impressed by the energy of the students and faculty in the old facility where the environment did very little to facilitate or support their efforts. He came to the realization that what he was feeling and seeing was not dependent on the building but the spirit of the place itself, and he saw his biggest charge as not screwing it up. Cloepfil contends that Booker T. Washing- ton is the philosophical reason the Dallas Arts District exists. He characterized the rest of the facilities in the Arts District as the crystalline buildings to which he alluded in the beginning of his lecture, and sees them all as the forces that have influenced the school. Allied Works’ new building for BTW creates a protected space to nurture the students who are learning the lessons they need to claim those surrounding buildings and the ideas they represent. michaEl malonE, aia allied Works architecture designed the expansion of the Booker t. Washington high school for the Performing and Visual arts in the Dallas arts District. Photos by Jerem y bit t erm a n n, court esy a L L ied Work s a rchit ect ure