Architects Propose Dynamiting Downtown Dallas, Thousands Flee!

All right. Maybe the headline was a little sensational. If the headline had been, "Interesting Charette Held," you wouldn't be here, would you? And there was some talk of dynamite last night at the "Connected City" seminar at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

Different people, I'm sure, left last night's deal with very different takes on what they just heard. It was a public seminar where a bunch of world expert architects and planners talked about what Dallas should do to reconnect downtown with the Trinity River.

I know what I heard. Ricardo Bofill, the younger half of a famous Spanish father-son architect team, talked about turning inhuman spaces into human spaces. He flashed pictures of freeway overpasses and other huge concrete structures on the screen of a packed room in the basement of the Nasher Sculpture Center and then talked about how his firm has dealt with intrusive infrastructure in Spain:

"The first thing we did is use dynamite," he said. He explained that dealing with intrusive infrastructure is like sculpting marble. "It's taking out and removing the things that are not beautiful, not useful." The idea, he said, is to "blow them up with a lot of dynamite." He even showed photos of some stuff getting blown to bits in Spain.

My heart soared. It was incredible. Was he whispering to me? Had he seen inside my heart? How often have I dreamed of an art project where artists armed with boxes of dynamite would be sent out into downtown Dallas to blow up things they found ugly or infelicitous.

Oh, I know, public safety and all that. But that could be resolved. You'd have an oogah-horn or something to give people warning. Of course, not too much warning, or they'll just start bitching and trying to sabotage the project. Maybe 20 minutes, long enough to clear desks and burn rubber for the boondocks.

This whole thing last night was called "The Connected City," part of a big think-tank competition put on by theCity Design Studio and other sponsors. The City Design Studio is sort of a part of City Hall, where it has offices, but not really. I have always suspected in my heart that they were in favor of dynamite but couldn't just come right out and say it, so, sure, I get it. They had a guy from Spain say it. What's important is blowing stuff up.

The sacred cow looming over last night's little exercise was the proposed Trinity River toll road, which none of them mentioned. Since the supposed purpose of the competition is to come up with ideas to reconnect the city with the river, and since the Trinity River toll road, if built, would be a wall separating the city from the river, it seemed weird not to mention it. Ultra weird, in fact.

Thank goodness former Dallas City Council person Angela Hunt was in the house. She got up afterward and asked a question, which was sort of like, "Uh, dudes. The toll road?"

The answer she got was wonderfully nonsensical, elliptical and oracular -- something to the effect that the firms competing in this thing were told they couldn't say anything about the toll road but they were also told they could say anything they wanted to say about anything. That answer came from Canadian planning guru Larry Beasley, who is a guy I love to listen to. I wish he would wear black robes and a tall pointed wizard hat, but that's just me.

I know that some people left last night's deal worried that the whole thing was a pig-rouging competition like an event in a twisted rodeo. You know, one of them is going to say it will be OK to totally block off the river with a toll road because we can always put in a monorail to get people over it. Maybe shoot people over it with a human cannon. One guy last night actually did we say we could always build the toll road and then just move the river out from under it. I kind of liked that idea.

What I sniffed in the whole thing was subversion. Dynamite. Moving the river. C'mon. The people paying for this stunt wouldn't let the world experts say it out loud, but what do we think they were really telling us about that damned toll road? I'm kind of slapping myself in the chest and smiling right now. I love the smell of subversion in the morning.

More on this to come. At future events, the individual firms will pony up their specific suggestions. By the way, this was in the basement of the Nasher, so I left my sun parasol in the car. I think as long as you stay in the basement, you're safe.

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