The Connected City

The Connected City

The Connected City kicked off its series of public events last week.  We had architect turned intrepid reporter Ryan Flener there to share his thoughts.

Local Planning for aGlobal Culture

In 1969, a handful of college students from Texas A&Mexplored opportunities of what Dallas’ Trinity River Corridor ‘could be.’ TitledDesigns for Dallas, the proposalsuggested an artificial lake to the east of the downtown area with alterationsto the levees, improvements for local neighborhoods, and initial conceptionsfor the DART System, The Katy Trail, and the Downtown Parks.

Later transformed into the Town Lake Plan, its adoption in1970 led the way for a grant just two years later from the HUD to provide openspace for riding & biking trails, archery and athletic fields, tennis &basketball courts, golf courses, and lakes. The levees succeeded indevelopment, isolating the lowlands from the adjacent neighborhoods, but theTown Lake bond program was defeated, and the plan was never fully realized.Since then, numerous studies, plans, and proposals have flooded theimaginations of city officials and planners at-large, yet the 1969 plan hasproven that innovative visions can hold serious weight on prolonged schedules.

After Wednesday night’s Connected City Symposium at theNasher Sculpture Center, it is clear that Dallas’ next big idea will come froma competition—the 2013 City Design Challenge, a call for entries to design andtransform that same portion of the Trinity and continue to move Dallas into becomingone of America’s great cities. The competition is being held in two streams:the professional stream, which has been narrowed to three world-class designteams, and the open stream, which has already solicited over 500 entries. TheChallenge is produced by the Dallas CityDesign Studio, an office of the City ofDallas, in partnership with The Trinity Trust Foundation, Downtown Dallas, Inc.and The Real Estate Council Foundation. The Dallas Center for Architecture isalso a collaborator.

The symposium was the first of several events to be held aspart of the competition. Hosted by Larry Beasley, consultant to DallasCityDesign Studio, the symposium included presentations by the threeinternationally practicing teams chosen to compete in the professional stream:OMA/AMO, the New York office of Rem Koolhaas’ partnership based out ofRotterdam (they are collaborating with Mia Lehrer + Associates landscapearchitects); Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, a Barcelona-based firm; anda collaborative effort between Boston-based Stoss and Shop from New York City.Each team discussed relevant recent works and hinted at their ideas to come.

“The time is now!” professed Mia Lehrer, “There’s always alot of speculation in these types of projects, but the time is right for Dallas!”

Indeed, now is thetime. Like the many times before us, designers have set their crosshairs on theTrinity, but this time with the hype of a new generation of Dallasites intenton continuing our city’s progress.

Shop + Stoss, presented by Chris Reed of Stoss, presented avariety of projects with similarities and connections. From the MinneapolisRiverfront Masterplan, to the Deck Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to the Plazaat Harvard, Reed’s team has the potential to bring us something quite tangible.Reed says “What I found so beautiful about the site is that there is already asurprising amount of life there. There are birds, fish, trails and path, andeven the occasional person.” We can also expect human-focused solutions fromReed’s proposal as they work hand-in-hand with Shop from New York City. Neitheris new to uncharted territory.

Ricardo Bofill sifted through an expansive list of officework as part of his presentation. As a graduate of Rice University’sarchitecture program, Bofill has spent his fair share of time in Dallas andfeels an emotional connection to this competition: “The opportunity to practiceagain in Texas is so special; it’s really hard to explain.”

He began his presentation with the design of their newoffice in Barcelona, La Fabrica, where a process reminiscent of a Carlo Scarpaproject carved out the unused with dynamite and accentuated the necessary withcareful detail. The most relevant project, however, was the Jardines del Turia,a linear garden in an old river basin in Turin, Italy. The project carefullycombines a fascist urbanism and neo-classism like that of Speer with acontemporary benevolence for program, space, and time.

OMA’s presentation stressed the importance of absorbing andunderstanding a more global situation. Shohei Shigumatsu, partner and directorof North American operations, referenced statistical data of mega cities(cities with a population over 10 million) suggesting that Dallas would soon beon the list. Showing various images and photomontages, Shigematsu educated theaudience with relevant works such as the Student Center at IIT in Chicago, TheToronto Gardiner Expressway proposal, and photographs from Lagos Nigeria, along-term interest of founding partner Rem Koolhaas. The former provide aframework for larger urban expressions, while the latter demonstrate ourability to make the most of urban spaces in dense environments.

Shigematsu also took a brief moment at the end of his talkto discuss their team’s initial concerns. When asked about the other side ofthe river, he replied, “We didn’t show all of our cards,” hinting at aformidable focus on the western edge of the Trinit­y. The seriousness of hispresentation was well-peppered with laughter and Shigematsu maintained that “Nothingis impossible.” OMA’s proposal will likely be a favorite in this race,especially for the younger generation of designers here in Dallas.

Each of these teams has the capability of producingsomething truly amazing and possibly unique. But while their work may speak foritself elsewhere, it will take more than a massaging of institutionalized ideasto convince the people of Dallas to move forward. Much of the presented workhas hardly been tested for validity or functionality, with the exception ofStoss + Shop (and I mean the plaza at Harvard), but even they know that the bigidea here is more than just a paper product of urban speculation.

Above all, the challenge is intended to provide a platformfor discussion and discourse at a variety of levels. Whether between a coupleat dinner or at a packed Horchow Auditorium, the conversation is there for thepublic to encounter or eschew, and has been since 1969. People are talking, and it’s not just thedesign community. We are already seeing developers and real-estate ventures lickingtheir chops, once again focusing their attention on the banks of the TrinityRiver to make their mark on the Dallas skyline. Like the hundreds of plans producedin Dallas before us, we aren’t quite sure if the winning entries will be fully adopted.At the same time, that’s not entirely the point.

To learn more about the The Connected City Design Challengevisit their website at

Ryan Fleneris an Intern Architect at Good Fulton & Farrell.

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