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An Urban ‘Setting for People’ Main Street Garden Opens in Dallas b y K e v i n Sl o a n , AS L A
park’s northern perimeter invite people outdoors to study or work. At the northwest corner, the restaurant pavilion offers shaded seating. (opposite page) In replacing an entire city block previously occupied by buildings with little architectural distinction, the 1.7-acre project also has opened views to two downtown landmarks—the recently renovated Municipal Building and the nowempty Statler Hilton.
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The master plan selected a block with outstanding urban characteristics, nesting the park into a rectangular urban “room,” a space defined by neighboring buildings that are mostly uniform both in height and in their obedience to the street wall. These include the 1914 Municipal Building (by C.D. Hill) at the narrow east end and high point of the site. Considered the state’s finest Beaux-Arts edifice, its symmetrical colonnade establishes the primary orientation of the new park. Also, the 1956 Statler Hilton (by William Tabler), its inflected curtain wall and rooftop objects clearly originate from the great housing works of Le Corbusier, dramatically commands the entire southern edge of the space. With the buildings on the park block now demolished, the Statler’s modernist facade opposes the 1929 Tiche-Goettinger building (by George Dahl) to the north. That neo-Florentine palazzo stretched by a 1950s addition – along with a former library, also by Dahl, and new mid-rise housing – complete the urban framework around the park. Accomplishing a genuine public place is no small undertaking in these times. For decades, the public realm in American cities has been under assault, with private interests increasingly assuming, even replacing, the role of public agencies. Cultural pressures for diversity and political correctness, as well as the need for private and corporate underwriting, nervously
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Photos by Willis Winters, FAIA; Rendering courtesy Thomas Balsley and Associates
(above, left and right) Pairs of simple shelters along the
With the opening of the spectacular AT&T Performing Arts Center still ringing in the air, the City of Dallas dedicated an urban park in November that is equally bold for different reasons. Known as the Main Street Garden, the 1.7-acre park did not emanate from a Pritzker Prize-winning architect, nor does it flaunt any enthusiasms for Pritzker Prize-like experimentation. Designed by Thomas Balsley and Associates of New York City, the park is intended to be a richly active urban space for downtown residents—a “setting for people,” in the words of its landscape architect. Main Street Garden is the first in a network of three park sites in the downtown Dallas core that were identified in a 2004 master plan by Carter & Burgess of Dallas, Chan/Krieger of Boston, and Hargreaves & Associates of New York. The site for the Main Street Garden required the demolition of an entire city block that was covered by nondescript, ad hoc buildings. Considering how urban projects often are insensitively imposed on existing fabric, it wasn’t surprising that local preservationists tried to intervene with the city’s plans and save three of the buildings, but their efforts failed. However, a gesture motivated to perpetuate aspects of the site history, elements and signage from the removed buildings will be incorporated as an artifact garden in the new park.