North Texas Oasis


In the 1980s, Dallas got an eponymous primetime soap opera to memorialize its conspicuous consumption of both summer furs and panoramic landscape. But don’t forget rival sister city Ft. Worth, sharing an international airport and just 30 minutes to the west. Dallas and Ft. Worth have pushed local philanthropists toward the power of starchitect names like Louis Kahn to change the reputation of a place that both birthed George W. Bush and hosted an infamous rally in 1963. Ft. Worth’s Kimball Museum holds one of only four Michelangelo easel paintings in the world and has museums designed by Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, and Tadao Ando, built since the 1960s. 

And Dallas, for its part, has the largest Arts District in the country and is the site of one of the most comprehensive private sculpture collections in the world, the Nasher. To house those efforts and catch up to its sibling city, Dallas has recently added an I.M. Pei symphony center; a Renzo Piano “roofless museum” that holds works by Richard Serra, Alberto Giacometti, and James Turrell, among many others; and a brand new Norman Foster opera house and Rem Koolhaas/Joshua Prince-Ramus theatre. 



Can they be North Texas’ Bilbao? Or is Marfa just a one-time Texas miracle? Inquiring mid-tier cities seeking a revival might like to know. Dallas City Councilmember Angela Hunt shares her thoughts on the Arts District:

ESTHER WEISBROD: First of all, what do you think about the two new buildings?

ANGELA HUNT: I think both the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theater are beautiful pieces. I particularly like the Winspear’s striking red exterior, and I think it complements its neighbors. I met with Sir Norman Foster at one of the opening events, but I had a much more involved conversation with the young European architect who helped design the Opera House. He relocated to Dallas for several months and figured out how to provide the most shade. I couldn’t believe how much thought went into it — temperature analysis of the different months, the angle of the sun. Although I can’t imagine it would make any difference whatsoever on a day like today. I like the metal skin of the Wyly Theater, which I lovingly refer to as the “Borg Cube.”  I also like that the interior theater space can be reconfigured to accommodate almost any stage design or theatrical presentation.

WEISBROD: The Arts District is typically Dallas in that it’s not exactly organic urbanism. The city is willing a vibrant urban district into being. Do you think it’s working? It’s sort of a ghost town, albeit a beautiful one.

HUNT: It’s a start. But you can’t just will these things into being.  You’ve got to have people who live in the Arts District, and not just rich people. You need outdoor cafes, bookstores, retail shops. These gorgeous pieces of architecture are amazing, but buildings do not create a livable realm. You’ve got to populate it with people to see and non-venue places to go.

WEISBROD: Do you think this kind of showpiece architecture can bring more people to Dallas, or change people’s opinion of the city?

HUNT: I don’t think the average person looking to relocate thinks “I want to find a city with a concentration of Pritzker Award-winning architecture.” But in talking with some more affluent acquaintances of mine (who know far more about the art world than I do), they tell me this type of investment do attract the kind of people who make decisions about relocating their companies.

WEISBROD: I often talk with Dallasites who dislike the fact that the city has invested so much in the Arts District:  they view it as an expensive playland for the affluent.  What most people don’t know is that private dollars paid for roughly 95% of these venues, and the city only made up the remainder. LEFT: THE WINSPEAR

HUNT: Another aside: I think the city’s performance hall (for smaller arts organizations) will be the most attractive of the three new venues. Phase one is under construction now, and we’ll fund phase two from the 2012 bond. The building’s designed by SOM out of Chicago, and if it’s skinned right, it’ll be gorgeous—like graceful, curved piano keys. New York, Paris, Berlin, London: these are places known for their art attractions. Dallas, less so. But Dallas, in tandem with its sister city, Ft. Worth, has spent 30 years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince the U.S. and the world that it’s culturally competitive. In the tradition of Lincoln Center, Dallas has decided to go with a single-use Arts District.