From a conceptual standpoint, our work on a vertical campus in Downtown Dallas took cues from many lessons we have learned abroad, from site response to contextual integration, and paired these attributes with an evolving corporate business model. Ultimately, the concept was shaped around an affordable housing project just to the east of the site, maintaining a view corridor through the gesture of a loop that ultimately became a symbol for the company’s programmatic model. It is one in a line of projects coming up in Texas that we are excited about.
From a facade standpoint, our hospitality group is working on a Grand Hyatt Hotel in Kuwait that is currently under construction. The facade concept of self-shading finds a balance between the harsh climate of the region and the demand for expansive views. The pitch results in the natural placement of photovoltaics with the underside of the bay providing a highly transparent opening with minimal direct solar heat gain. The same team recently completed the core and shell of the Maike Business Center and Grand Hyatt in Xi’an. Here, two towers were linked by a belt truss to limit lateral loads while serving as a critical program link between the hotel and office towers. The facade was a simple extruded, serrated form linked in the middle by a vertical screen that emphasizes the composition.
I am working currently on the design of two China-based projects with quite a range of scale between them. OCT Chengdu is on the larger side with a dominant facade facing a key convergence of traffic in the city. The facade plays into that movement with a series of fins that peel upward to reveal the activity of the mall behind, thus activating what is traditionally a hard face. We have been working further to optimize this system. This project is currently under construction and should be complete in a few years. On the other side of scale, we recently began work on an Audubon Center in Zhengzhou. The concept is about tying program and landscape together underneath an observation ring. We have been working with Thornton Tomasetti on realizing the ring as a completely unsupported element over the waterfront with full height curved glazing that reveals the public behind, as if the visitor were a part of the facade experience. The Zhengzhou project will start in construction in a few months and be complete by the middle of next year.
AN: What unique opportunities and challenges are present for architects and designers in Dallas?
MF: Mark Lamster summed it up well in a Dallas Morning News article from April of 2016, "Dallas Architecture is a joke (but it doesn't have to be)."
In my opinion, the potential in Dallas is to be proactive rather than reactive toward challenging and evolving typologies but with that comes a certain degree of investment and risk. We can take lessons from two organizations that I believe have had the most impact upon the city in BC Workshop and Better Block. Both groups have been recognized for their innovative approaches to typologies and community engagement. The Cottages at Hickory Crossing is a noted example on the city’s south side.
An engagement of our value as architects and designers to all parties involved in a project, from developer to community, is key, but change will also depend upon us stepping out and trying something without permission. As Dallas further evolves, there is no better place to test and experiment, but we have yet to really commit to that, beyond few examples. In all, it is really getting back to our fundamentals of why we practice this profession and to search for its meaning once again.
AN: Which ongoing Dallas developments do you perceive to be the most exciting in terms of facade innovation and overall impact on the city?MF: There have been some noted transformations in Downtown Dallas, from work by Architexas on the Joule Hotel, to Merriman Anderson’s work on the Statler Hilton, all the way to more recent conversions of 400 Record by Gensler. Each of these, among others, have defined in many respects the process of historical rehabilitation in Texas, but also have transformed the program in all cases. Almost overnight, there is a developed rhythm toward respecting the past and redefining the urban realm. The Statler and 1401 Elm represent the largest and most challenging cases of preservation in the city. Statler was many years in the making. Historical innovations during the 1950s proved quite challenging in the rehab of the building. The results of maintaining such a celebrated form and period in the rehab are nothing short of a feat. 1401 Elm is currently undergoing its makeover, with the marble currently off-site for rehab. It has stalled a few times during recent years but hopefully, it will become a major contributor once again.
Both projects are a glimpse into a city that is continually working to value its history more and more by the day. With our first panel, we hope to shed further light on this discussion.Further information regarding Facades+ Dallas may be found here.
While urban farming has become a great catchphrase, it has yet to take hold in a significant way in most American cities and suburbs. However, an excellent model for its progression is DSGN AGNC’s Spaces Of Opportunity, an 18-acre site in South Phoenix, Arizona, that is much more than just a place for growing: It’s also a community hub, an art center, and a music venue.
“The idea is that farming here is an excuse to bring services to this area,” said DSGN AGNC principal and founder Quilian Riano. “A way to bring economic opportunity.”
The semi-suburban area is home primarily to low- and middle-income Latino and African American populations. It’s also the site of a food desert, meaning that fresh food is very difficult to find. “There are more liquor stores than grocery stores here,” noted Riano.
DSGN AGNC’s master plan for the project, undertaken with the Desert Botanical Garden and a consortium of local nonprofits, called Cultivate South Phoenix, lays out segmented plots for community gardens and incubator farms. Master farmers will teach apprentices agrarian skills, helping them progress so they can get their own plots to work. Spaces in between the plots will be lined by rows of flowering fruit trees. The spaces along the edges of these plots will take on myriad uses, including washing and cleaning stations housed in repurposed shipping containers; compost and animal areas; a 500-person, colorful corrugated-metal and solar-panel-topped stage; playgrounds; an outdoor gym; and walls for art.
Work on the project is already underway, and Riano said he hopes it will be fully up and running by this coming summer or fall. Its creation involves an iterative process that Riano calls “design, wait, build.” In other words, the firm comes up with a plan, but then the community inevitably changes it to better meet their needs, and then the designers scramble to catch up with an adjusted plan.
“The community already moved faster than my previous design,” said Riano, referring to his early efforts to start growing on the site. “I had to rethink completely. The design is constantly re-questioned, rethought, and reworked.”
He hopes the project—both its content and its development—will become a model for future urban farms and for urban development in general. Incorporating so many types of uses has helped not only with interest, but also with fundraising. Already money has come in from local philanthropists and education and arts foundations.
“It’s a design that is very flexible and very participatory,” said Riano. “We’re using every angle.” The team also plans to coordinate with local schools, churches, and businesses to maximize participation and support.
Like many of DSGN AGNC’s initiative across the country, the project is also filled with learning lessons, like how to farm, how to build, and how to bring residents, designers, nonprofits, and city officials together. The firm’s other highly collaborative projects include Under El-Space Pilot, a pop-up park under the Gowanus Expressway in Queens; INPLACE, a community plan designed to bring urban art and design projects to Youngstown, Ohio; and La Casita Verde, a flexible community garden built on the site of a derelict lot in Brooklyn.
“It’s not just about building, but about rethinking the design process,” said Riano, of his diverse body of work. “Everybody learns, including me.”
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