Dallas has commissioned an impressive collection of architectural objects over the last few decades, like the Morphosis-designed Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which openned on December 1. The city, however, often feels disconnected and disjointed, reflecting its car-centered culture. The recently opened Klyde Warren Park, however, attempts to merge sophisticated contemporary design with walkable urbanism, partially correcting dated urban renewal-era thinking and reconnecting two important neighborhoods.
Designed by the Office of James Burnett, a respected Houston-based landscape architecture firm, the five-acre park is bordered on one side by the Downtown Dallas Arts District—which includes buildings by Edward Larabee Barnes, Renzo Piano, Foster + Partners, OMA, SOM, I.M. Pei, and Allied Works—and on the other by the tony Uptown neighborhood. Though the neighborhoods are adjacent to one another, and both include large central business districts, they have long been divided by the trenched Woodall Rogers highway.
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Built on decking that spans the eight-lane highway, Klyde Warren Park packs numerous amenities into its three-block length, including a large performance stage, a children’s play area, croquet and putting greens, a restaurant designed by New York architects Thomas Phifer and Partners (currently under construction), table tennis, and plenty of movable tables and chairs. Curved paths lead visitors through allées of trees, but keep most of the park open for civic gatherings. White metal arches—like miniature versions of Eero Saarinen’s in St. Louis—bend over the crushed gravel paths of one allée, creating a visual rhythm and a bit of shadow. Most of the park is quite exposed and will likely be unbearably hot in the Dallas summer. Elsewhere, attractive multicolored pavers provide interest underfoot. Meticulously maintained and heavily programmed by a private conservancy, the park seems intended to draw office workers, tourists, families, and nearby residents. The park has already spurred some residential development: Johnson Fain’s controversial Museum Tower—blamed for scorching the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Garden with reflected sunlight that glares off its facade—flanks the park’s Downtown side, and a low-rise apartment building is nearing completion on the Uptown side.
The state’s Department of Transportation made some fairly limited concessions for the park, including one street closure. Olive Street remains open, however, slicing off a third of the park into a small, somewhat orphaned section. An exit ramp along the northwest side, for cars coming out of the highway trench up to grade level, severs the park significantly from its surroundings.
Will Klyde Warren Park be the beginning of a better-planned, more pedestrian-friendly central Dallas? Or will it prove to be just the latest bauble in Dallas’ collection, a Lone Star version of Chicago’s Millenium Park without that city’s density? The Renzo Piano-designed Nasher and the Larrabee Barnes-designed Dallas Museum of Art are both apparently considering altering their somewhat fortress-like buildings to better address the new public space. And additional infill on nearby surface parking lots—particularly on the Downtown side—could go a long way toward making Klyde Warren Park the centerpiece of a real neighborhood. Dallas deserves a dynamic and connected central city that can make its trophies shine.