City Hall

In West Dallas, Where William Whyte's Vision of a Living City Hall Plaza Is Finally Coming to Life

My copy of William H. Whyte's 1988 book City: Rediscovering the Center arrived today, and right there, on Page 123, The Organization Man writes of his attempt to redesign Dallas City Hall Plaza by sinking chairs in the sea of concrete:

The building was striking, but the plaza was near empty most of the time, and one factor was the seating. It was a series of concrete benches laid out in a modular pattern that had little to do with people flows or sun. Of thirty-four benches only three were sited so that they would be in the shade of a tree. There was considerable sentiment for demolishing the benches. If chairs were provided, however, the benches might provide useful in other ways -- as tables, for example. So they did. But the frequent use of the benches has been as footstools.
Quelle coincidence: Not long after the postman dropped off the tome, which is full of references to Dallas, I was talking to Jason Roberts about his and Brent Brown's plans to remake City Hall Plaza in Whyte's image one week from today. Roberts said he was in a West Dallas warehouse, where Gary Buckner -- the man responsible for Bar Belmont's in-the-works makeover, among other notable projects -- was turning old pallets into chairs for next week's Living Plaza experiment. Roberts said to come on by. So I headed over to Toronto Street -- at the foot of the West Levee, in the shadow of the Calatrava -- where Roberts and Andrew Howard are, at this very moment, helping Buckner tear apart the wooden slats and nail them back together again. Very cool. And almost very comfortable.

They're hoping to have seating for 100 by the time next Wednesday rolls around. Maybe more. There will be food too -- a menu Roberts says will include barbecue sandwiches, crepes and tamales, for starters, all sold out of Brown's rolling commissary. Those concrete benches Whyte loathed will be turned into chess and checkers tables. You'll be able to pilot remote-control boats in the pond. Again, for starters. Every day they throw something new into the pile -- not too much, though. "We want to stay true to Whyte's vision," says Roberts.

Who needs Downtown Dallas 360 when you already have Downtown Dallas 1988? More to come.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky