Dallas is no stranger to world-class design, nor is it unfamiliar with a crippling site that divides its downtown core from the ruins of the Trinity River. Infected by interstate overpasses, parking lots, and run-down infrastructure, the site has recently become the focus of The Connected City Design Challenge, a competition put forth by the City Design Studio, an office of the City of Dallas, Downtown Dallas Inc., and the Trinity River Trust. The goal of the competition is to reveal the hidden potential of future development through compelling planning and design.
Since 1911, numerous studies, plans, and proposals have flooded the imaginations of city officials and planners at-large. In 1969–70, eager studio of Texas A&M students explored opportunities of what Dallas’ Trinity River Corridor could become. Titled Designs for Dallas, the proposal suggested an artificial lake to the east of downtown with alterations to the levees, improvements for local neighborhoods, and initial conceptions for the DART System, The Katy Trail, and the Downtown Parks, to name a few of Dallas’ long-term achievements. The Connected City Design Challenge is only the latest of such extended fantasies, inviting the likes of OMA/AMO, Stoss + SHoP Architects, and Ricardo Bofill: Taller de Architectura to speculate about the possible future of an urbanized Trinity River.
When Shohei Shigumatsu, partner and director at OMA/AMO, lectured at the kickoff event last July, it was clear that anything ordinary was out of the question. Known for its expertise in architecture, urbanism, and cultural analysis, the team detailed a thoughtful transformation by way of understanding the existing context. From water ecology, residential and retail development, to traffic and speed studies, OMA/AMO (teamed with Mia Lehrer & Associates) investigates ways to cultivate the original route of the Trinity River as a catalyst for urban connections.
Courtesy Ricardo Bofill: Taller de Architectura
The proposal invites new life and vigor to the banks of the Trinity by placing programmatic islands throughout the landscape. Most successful is the cultural expansion of Dealey Plaza, where a new gateway and water feature completes the plaza as a place ‘for Dallas’ as opposed to a place about it. Although much of the proposal feels generic and formal, it allows us to image a place that marries Dallas’ only natural water feature with urban living.
More extreme is the design by Ricardo Bofill: Taller de Architectura. Here, foreign objects and fantastical skyscrapers are developed densely enough to imagine two new downtown cores. However, Bofill’s team proposes a rather simple solution that reclaims the eastern portion of the basin for public sports fields and gardens; potentially a short-term proposal. Such a vision for lightly manicuring the existing open space for the public’s use and recreation is a smart beginning in achieving the goals of this competition.
The Stoss + SHoP Architects collaboration approaches the site through landscape, offering an alternative to typical building development. Introducing an interlocking grip from the ecological extremes, it brings a “hyper landscape” in rhythm and harmony with an existing infrastructure and proposed “hyper density.” Rather than demolition or construction, The Stoss + SHoP team uses a forest for shade, shelter, and noise mitigation buffer zones. Likewise, small pockets of residential, retail, and business protrude into the Trinity River Basin, all linked by various forms of transportation, creating a flexible linear district.
For a city that consistently looks for bigger and better ideas, the city of Dallas definitely got what it was looking for, and there is now much to discuss. By way of the Connected City competition, a motivational discourse has been employed among our citizens and design culture. But for these ideas to be fully realized, Dallas’ inhabitants must perform a critical self-evaluation to understand our own city’s needs, wants, and the purpose of each. What about new downtowns or artificial islands are necessary and what are excessive? How could a recreational sports park along the trinity serve the greater good of the community? Only after framing such questions can designers, citizens, planners, and officials in Dallas responsibly propel our great city into the 21st century.