Wouldn't want you to miss a very interesting letter to the editor in today's Dallas Morning News from architect/civic activist Bill Booziotis about a recent review by Mark Lamster of the star-crossed arts district condo building called "Museum Tower."
(Hey, do me a favor. Get a sandwich, a cold drink, pop an Adderall, click on all the links in that first paragraph, then in half an hour or so c'mon back and we'll get going on the article.)
Lamster is the News' new architecture critic. He's from New York, sounds like a nice guy. His job here is like the job just announced for Rick Brettell, the paper's new art critic: Both jobs are joint posts paid for on some kind of sharing basis by the paper and local universities. So that gives both guys a lot of people to get along with. Both have distinguished backgrounds and should be up to the task, professionally and socially.
Museum Tower you know. It's the new glass-skinned condo tower in the arts district accused by D Magazine editor demeritus Tim Rogers of deliberately incinerating its across-the-street next-door neighbor, the Nasher Sculpture Center, by aiming magnified death-ray sunbeams at it.
Here we have ironies heaped on ironies: The Nasher, for all its sunbeam whining, was itself designed by Renzo Piano, one of the world's more notorious incinerati, having designed an enormous highly reflective glass spike of a tower in London, "The Shard!" The Shard! was described in The Guardian newspaper as "a monument to greed, money, inequality, foreign influence and broken Britain" and by Prince Charles as "an enormous salt cellar."
But when people like Piano come to Dallas, they typically have a certain awareness of our city's past, its culture, heritage and place in the world, often derived from fading memories of having watched the TV show a quarter century ago while their mothers were ironing.
So when Mr. Shard! comes to town to defend the Nasher, he plays some kind of weird Italian mendicant friar role, telling the Morning News, "We are not aggressive people," suggesting that Museum Tower, by contrast, sort of is -- you know, like that guy, Zhay Erra, who was on that show, you know, Dulles.
In his review of Museum Tower, Lamster did pretty much the same act, referring in fact directly to the show and then calling Museum Tower a "mean girl ... condo for plutocrats" in "a city often derided, with a certain justification, for nouveau riche ostentation."
Yeah, I'd like to jump on him for saying that stuff, but I happen to like those lines a lot. In fact, I think I need to make one thing perfectly clear here: I am not -- repeat not -- involved in an elaborate conspiracy to ghost-write Lamster's anti-Dallas lines for him by feeding everything through Dallas media consultant Lisa LeMaster. (Sorry, Mark, if you are reading this: It's a very inside joke, not worth trying to figure out, not that funny.)
Back to Booziotis, a Dallas-based architect whose work gets written up in Architectural Digest and who has been involved in everything civic from the museum of art to the symphony to the arboretum (Mark, I will send you some good dis' lines on all of these next week). Booziotis is especially conversant in the politics and planning of our vaunted arts district.
In his letter this morning, Booziotis takes Lamster to task for saying Museum Tower has an anti-pedestrian design -- no funky coffee shops or tattoo salons on first floor, only a wall and guards. Basically Booziotis says, "Yeah no kidding, welcome to the arts district, buddy."
He starts out by asking, "Was this piece written from 30,000 feet?" As in, from an airplane? Booziotis reminds Lamster that the reality, if not the original design, of the entire arts district has been seriously anti-ambulatory from the get-go: "The Sasaki plan called for a 'lively, attractive, downtown pedestrian environment.' The city followed through by approving a theater center with the entrance, parking and connection underground."
In fact everything built since the museum has been based on guaranteeing patrons that they will never have to set foot on a public sidewalk when they come to visit. Hence, when you drive through the arts district on most days now it has a certain dystopian aura, as if somebody set off one of those bombs that incinerates all the people without harming the buildings. Otherwise known as the sun, in Dallas.
So is that about pretentiousness? Don't be silly. It's about avoiding black people. We talked about this in May when I was writing about an attempt by the performing arts center to shut out the one serious black cultural institution in the arts district, the Dallas Black Dance Theater.
I told you the whole arts district was inspired by a so-called consultant's study in 1977 finding that the art museum, then still in Fair Park in black South Dallas, was in "a poor location for a facility whose patrons came primarily from North Dallas."
Ahem. Say what? What could that possibly mean? Oh, gosh we don't know, do we? Well, we wouldn't want to say. In fact, for a big brash ostentatious zhay erra city like that one on TV, the cat's just got our tongue, don't it? We're just all knock-kneed squiggle-toes when it comes to why rich white people don't want to go to South Dallas.
It's about rich white people being afraid of black people. That is why the arts district was created. That's why it's there. That's how the whole thing is set up, and, yes, that's why Klyde Warren Park is so remarkable.
The new freeway deck park along the district's northern border is not armed or walled like Museum Tower or, may I mention, the Nasher, which is one of the district's more notably medieval, defensive, plague-city fortifications, while we're on the topic of nobody walking around.
As for the rest of the arts district except Klyde Warren, once you have your basic walled plague city architecture on the ground everywhere else, it's hard to be the first guy to put a pizza joint on the first floor. Pizza what? Who walks in? Is your clientele going to be made up entirely of off-duty arts district security personnel? (Hey, wait. That could be a good idea for a business, come to think of it.)
Meanwhile, we all know what the huge incredible cannot-believe-it headline would be around here. NEWS ARCHITECTURE CRITIC SLAMS NASHER. Or, ART CRITIC MILDLY CRITICIZES MUSEUM. We're not holding our breath, right? Like newspaper readers in the old Soviet Union, whose architecture inspired most of the arts district, we must be satisfied with furtively insurrectionary quips slipped cleverly between the lines of our local version of Pravda.
Loved those "mean girl," "plutocrats" and "ostentation" lines, Mark. By the way, have you sent your family back to New York yet to live? Sorry, another insider. Forget it. It will all come to you soon enough if you stay, and I do hope you will. We should do lunch (wink-wink, like we haven't already, eh?)
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.