Dianna Wray
Peter Doncaster of Booziotis & Company Architects, who designed the interior of the Dallas Center for Architecture.

Transforming One Ugly 1980s Office Building, a Single Floor at a Time

The former office building at 1909 Woodall Rodgers Freeway is a remnant of the 1980s, a drab brown structure shaped like an upside-down wedding cake when viewed from just the right angle. The first floor, though, is anything but dreary -- appropriate, as last night it became, offcially, the new home of the Dallas Center for Architecture.

It’s the fifth such center built in the nation -- after New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston -- and, as such, it’s kind of a big deal. The centers are branches of the American Institute for Architecture and signify efforts to make both the foundation and modern architecture more of a presence in these cities. Which is why they chose the ugliest on Woodall Rodgers, apparently -- to make a point. Which is: You can pretty up just about anything.

As we mentioned way back in February, the new interior was designed by Booziotis & Company Architects' Peter Doncaster, who won a contest with help from two of his pals. On New Year’s Eve 2007, he was sitting in New Orleans drinking Abita beer with fellow Tulane University alumni Nicholas Marshall and Gabriel Smith, also architects, when he suggested they enter the Dallas AIA’s interior redo contest.

“I was like, ‘Hey, guys, you wanna enter this contest with me?’” he told Unfair Park last night. “They all said, ‘Sure, yeah, OK, let’s do it.’ Then when I brought it up again next week they were like, ‘Wait, you were serious?”

He’d paid the entrance fee, and the men settled down to collaborate -- long distance, as they were scattered from Dallas (Doncaster) to New York City (Marshall) to New Orleans (Smith). They met twice and worked via e-mail, YouTube and text messages to assemble the design proposal. Standing in the middle of the space he helped create -- a cool shade of incandescent blue -- Doncaster sipped his drink and smiled as a steady stream of people congratulated him on its rather starling transformation.

The center will be used as a set of office spaces, lecture rooms and display areas. According to Janet Howe, the center’s spokesperson, it will also highlight the architectural history of Dallas. Which is to say, it will celebrate all the glorious buildings that have become parking lots.

The space is spacious, with a wall of crumpled glass (it looks like a very wide, thick ribbon of frosted glass) forming a rim along the wall overlooking Woodall Rogers Freeway -- soon to be Woodall Rogers Park, as Schutze mentioned this morning. It also looks very Star Trek-kie.

Elaine Kollaja is quick to point out that much of the furniture and materials used to construct the place are recycled -- including the floor (mint green and white with flecks of glass scattered through it) and most of the furniture, including a hutch from the 1960s donated by a local firm. This was done in an effort to get that LEED certification; they are trying for the Gold Standard, the highest level available to a newly designed space in an old building.

Doncaster, who wanted to be an architecture ever since he was a little kid coming of age in Denton, praised the AIA Dallas branch for being open to newer ideas and for trusting the architects and their vision. “Originally,” he says, “this wall of glass was going to be light bulbs, and we changed that late in the game, and they were OK with that.” Taking a shot in the dark, as there were no light bulbs now, we asked him about Santiago Calatrava’s bridge, which one day may indeed span the Trinity River.

“Calatrava is brilliant,” he said, “but having him design a bridge? Why not have him redesign the highway system and make something beautiful and functional?” We’re now officially big, big fans. --Dianna Wray

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