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D i s t r i c t D a l l a s

A r t s

The Importance of Public Space In today’s cities, such as Dallas, private hands shape public places b y K e v i n W . S l o a n , ASLA

Arts District from the 1982 Sasaki Plan’s

openings of the Winspear Opera House

recommendation for rows of cypress to

and Wyly Theatre. The projects are the

define Flora Street, the district’s central

latest additions to the AT&T Performing

spine, to the actual development of the

Arts Center (formerly the Dallas Center

ground plane. The space-positive diagram

for the Performing Arts), located at the

in the center shows how the tree-lined

west end of the Arts District.

street expands around the PAC. The fig-

(opposite page, top to bottom) The dia-

ure-ground drawing depicts the District’s

grams demonstrate the evolution of the

built components.

t e x a s

a r c h i t e c t

3 / 4

2 0 1 0

Photo by Julien B. Meyrat, AIA; Illustrations by Kevin Sloan, ASLA


(above) Crowds thronged the Oct. 19

In premodern cities, the architecture of the public domain – the temples, cathedrals, monuments and the deliberately shaped spaces around them – conferred status to citizens and communicated authority to the outside world. Central Park and Bryant Park in New York City; Golden Gate Park, Market Street and the Embarcadero in San Francisco; and the venerated Emerald Necklace in Boston are public spaces in more recent cities. In the best examples of all worlds, cities are continuous networks of humanized space. The public domain is not a distant idea. As recently as the early twentieth century, the architecture and urban planning team of Werner Hegemann and Elbert Peets noted, in their seminal text American Vitruvius: An Architect’s Handbook on Civic Art, “The fundamental unit of architectural design is the city, not the individual building.” Never meant to suggest that a single individual can design an entire city, it reinforced the time-honored notion that any new building must accomplish its own prerogatives and be, as Louis Kahn wrote, a “donor to the street.” Cities are accomplished or unmade one building and space at a time. In less than a century, this sensibility has all but vanished. Contemporary architecture is a free-for-all where individual projects and individual designers vie for primacy and virtually any building program, ranging from an opera house to a country house, can be conferred objective importance. The overall result is chaos and the appearance of a historically unprecedented city form. What might be called the “metropolitan city” has appeared so rapidly that it has no namable parts, no public realm, nor any clear purpose. With public space largely edited from its proliferation, for whom or what are these cities built? The city of humanized space has been replaced by cities of real estate. As to how stakeholders might transform the metropolitan city, proponents of the New Urbanism attack the problem with excitable rhetoric and their conviction that the solution is in European models and the canonical examples of early American town planning. Architects of a more contemporary mind see the historical precedents as anathema to invention, and remain steadfast that, given time, the modern world will solve its own problems. Other sympathies are either ambivalent or construct a curious rationale that the metropolitan city is just fine—a uniquely “American urbanism.” These viewpoints hold some truth, but none grasp the complete picture. While “center” is a symbolic reference and not so much an urban type, the AT&T Performing Arts Center resembles a campus or world exposition where radically different buildings are held in suspension by a unifying landscape. Shaped collaboratively by Foster + Partners of London and OMA

Texas Architect March/April 2010: Performance Spaces  

This edition highlights architecture deigned for performance throughout Texas, including thoughtful essays about the use of public space and...

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