By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
And, in early September this year, the design firm Office of Metropolitan Architecture debuted its concept for a tropical paradise in Singapore. Called The Interlace, it's really nothing more than buildings stacked one upon the other as though by an infant; the empty rooftop spaces would serves as gardens, while the complex would be engulfed in greenery and water below. OMA, incidentally, was founded by architect Rem Koolhaas and is the firm responsible for the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater in the AT&T Performing Arts Center that opens in mid-October.
So, the future is here—or, at least, teased in the privately funded Arts District. It raises the question Brent Brown put to Eric Corey Freed one year ago: What about Dallas? What was it Lon Tinkle once wrote? Ah, yes: "One streak runs like a common thread through all the people of Dallas: a love of brand-new things. They like to erect new homes, stores, schools, factories, office buildings, public structures of all kind, places where they may work or play." That was in 1965, in a book titled The Key to Dallas. It was aimed at educating school children, but it is no less instructional for adults today.
On a frigid Friday morning last December, architects and developers, designers and dreamers were invited to a conference room on the fourth floor of Dallas City Hall. Most had no idea what they were doing there, save for the vague invitation to jot down on Post-It notes ideas that would ultimately lead to the development of a "self-sustaining community" where "people of all incomes" would live, work, shop, eat and play together. Stacey Frost, head of Urban Re:Vision, welcomed everyone and showed a short film documenting the earlier competitions and another charette in Denver. Greenan told the group he hoped to transform the parking lot into "something we can actually build [that's] way cool, so cool we can get people from all over the city to live there."
Mayor Tom Leppert spoke as well, evoking the Trinity River Corridor Project and the Woodall Rodgers deck park as proof of Dallas' forward momentum. He says that when he first spoke with Frost and Urban Re:Vision about creating a self-sustaining block downtown, it was "one of those decisions [I found] easy to make. Because I think what you're going to do is exactly what you need to do, and not only in Dallas but across the nation...Sustainability thinks strategically about how you use space and how you use structures and that goes beyond the green. There are projects in Dallas that I think are examples of that, where it's more than a project...First, the Trinity River project. A lot of times we'll think of it as being enormous benefits for recreation, transportation or flood control, those elements. But the biggest part of that isn't those things that I talked about, the tangibles. It's the intangibles. It's the idea that a space in our city that has been historically a divide could all of a sudden bring people together."
Attendees, who had been given canvas bags upon arrival, were then told to empty out their contents—pencils, Post-It notes. They were given only a few instructions and a couple of pieces of paper upon which were written some cursory howdy-dos. They were told this block should contain no fewer than 500 housing units. And no fewer than 75,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, including "shop(s) for daily grocery needs." And an "educational component that serves all the residents." And a "multi-purpose care area and provider." And a place where residents could grow their own food. And so much more.
As the large group broke into smaller ones, you could see all around the room the what-the-what looks on some folks' faces—a few blank stares, some sneakily exchanged smirks, a couple of knowing nods that seemed to say, silently, What nonsense. Yet others were intrigued by their charge—this chance to redefine an abandoned block in downtown Dallas.
"I was excited," says Ann Allison, executive director of The Real Estate Council Foundation, whose board of directors consists of bald-faced deal-makers, among them Hillwood's John Scovell and Jack Matthews, who are building the city's convention center hotel. "And there was part of me that was like, 'Oh, right, sure—this is going to happen.' But the people in my group—architects and developers—everyone was very serious in terms of really trying to express something about it and what it might mean. Everybody was very engaged. And it's always great having an opportunity to be visionary, even though you have no idea if it'll come to fruition."
To which Greenan adds, "I got the feeling that everyone didn't know what the hell they were rooting for, that it was such a strange concept."
Yet, somehow, they managed to offer enough ideas to lead to the creation of an eight-page document called Re:Vision Dallas: A Design Brief for the Future, which outlined the vision for the block and the rules for the final competition.