Architects Propose Dynamiting Downtown Dallas, Thousands Flee!

Categories: Schutze

All right. Maybe the headline was a little sensational. If the headline had been, "Interesting Charette Held," you wouldn't be here, would you? And there was some talk of dynamite last night at the "Connected City" seminar at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

Different people, I'm sure, left last night's deal with very different takes on what they just heard. It was a public seminar where a bunch of world expert architects and planners talked about what Dallas should do to reconnect downtown with the Trinity River.

I know what I heard. Ricardo Bofill, the younger half of a famous Spanish father-son architect team, talked about turning inhuman spaces into human spaces. He flashed pictures of freeway overpasses and other huge concrete structures on the screen of a packed room in the basement of the Nasher Sculpture Center and then talked about how his firm has dealt with intrusive infrastructure in Spain:

"The first thing we did is use dynamite," he said. He explained that dealing with intrusive infrastructure is like sculpting marble. "It's taking out and removing the things that are not beautiful, not useful." The idea, he said, is to "blow them up with a lot of dynamite." He even showed photos of some stuff getting blown to bits in Spain.

Taller de Arquitectura
Bofills blowing up stuff in Spain
My heart soared. It was incredible. Was he whispering to me? Had he seen inside my heart? How often have I dreamed of an art project where artists armed with boxes of dynamite would be sent out into downtown Dallas to blow up things they found ugly or infelicitous.

Oh, I know, public safety and all that. But that could be resolved. You'd have an oogah-horn or something to give people warning. Of course, not too much warning, or they'll just start bitching and trying to sabotage the project. Maybe 20 minutes, long enough to clear desks and burn rubber for the boondocks.

This whole thing last night was called "The Connected City," part of a big think-tank competition put on by theCity Design Studio and other sponsors. The City Design Studio is sort of a part of City Hall, where it has offices, but not really. I have always suspected in my heart that they were in favor of dynamite but couldn't just come right out and say it, so, sure, I get it. They had a guy from Spain say it. What's important is blowing stuff up.

The sacred cow looming over last night's little exercise was the proposed Trinity River toll road, which none of them mentioned. Since the supposed purpose of the competition is to come up with ideas to reconnect the city with the river, and since the Trinity River toll road, if built, would be a wall separating the city from the river, it seemed weird not to mention it. Ultra weird, in fact.

Thank goodness former Dallas City Council person Angela Hunt was in the house. She got up afterward and asked a question, which was sort of like, "Uh, dudes. The toll road?"

The answer she got was wonderfully nonsensical, elliptical and oracular -- something to the effect that the firms competing in this thing were told they couldn't say anything about the toll road but they were also told they could say anything they wanted to say about anything. That answer came from Canadian planning guru Larry Beasley, who is a guy I love to listen to. I wish he would wear black robes and a tall pointed wizard hat, but that's just me.

I know that some people left last night's deal worried that the whole thing was a pig-rouging competition like an event in a twisted rodeo. You know, one of them is going to say it will be OK to totally block off the river with a toll road because we can always put in a monorail to get people over it. Maybe shoot people over it with a human cannon. One guy last night actually did we say we could always build the toll road and then just move the river out from under it. I kind of liked that idea.

What I sniffed in the whole thing was subversion. Dynamite. Moving the river. C'mon. The people paying for this stunt wouldn't let the world experts say it out loud, but what do we think they were really telling us about that damned toll road? I'm kind of slapping myself in the chest and smiling right now. I love the smell of subversion in the morning.

More on this to come. At future events, the individual firms will pony up their specific suggestions. By the way, this was in the basement of the Nasher, so I left my sun parasol in the car. I think as long as you stay in the basement, you're safe.

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The most enduring impression The Connected City left with me was the disconnect. Welcoming the Dallas Design Studio to set up shop in City Hall and hosting symposiums on cutting-edge urban planning belies the facts on the ground. On the day-to-day level, the city bureaucracy continues granting permits to unimaginative, poorly thought-out structures even while harassing those trying to adapt old buildings by imposing arcane parking requirements.

The city lags not only behind global cities and U.S. cities, but even cities in Texas on promoting pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Neither the Mary Hunt Hill Bridge, the Commerce Street Bridge, or even the city's reworking of South Lamar have cycling lanes. The city staff even drags its feet in spending appropriated funds to link and open maintenance trails along the river to the public.

Despite an appearance of openness to new ideas, on a day-to-day level, our city bureaucracy remains deeply mired in 20th century thinking.


The tollroad is a bad idea for many reasons, mainly being a waste of money and further enabling northern sprawl.  But I-35 already completely cuts the city off from the water, and it won't be going anywhere for a long time.  


Yo too much sun be bads fo’ ya.


I wasn't able to make it. Is there anywhere I can go to see the exhibits. preferably online?


"How often have I dreamed of an art project where artists armed with boxes of dynamite would be sent out into downtown Dallas to blow up things they found ugly or infelicitous."

How much would be left in the art museums after this was done?


If you want to see what a River can be, check out the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. It must have been really ugly 20 years ago, now a bike trail and lovely waterwise landscaping. Tons of wildlife and many people using it for hike/bike. 

The part of part of the trinity river which is most interesting begins at the White Water feature. Below that it commences natural contours and is actually quite pretty. Canoed it last year and completely enjoyed the trip. 

You can hike to McCommas Bluff from the new gateway park on Dowdy Ferry. We recently hiked that and saw many painted and indigo buntings. The bluff is interesting, other than the huge gabion over a sewer line. 


It takes more than a parasol to handle a room full of world class architects armed with dynamite. It takes billions of public dollars.


@d-may All three proposals will go up on public display beginning in October. What's more, reps from the three firms will be giving talks at the DMA over the course of the next several months. We didn't actually see any firm proposals Wednesday at the Nasher -- just background and context and high-minded goals from the three finalists, OMA (Rem Koolhaas), RBTA (Ricardo Bofill) and Stoss + SHoP.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bill.holston1 Don't forget the native piles of household refuse that dots the trail between Loop 12 and McCommas.  I asked the Landfill folks last year if I could collect that garbage and tip it at the dump without tipping fees.  Stupid question.  Answer was no, I would still have to pay dumping fees.  Screw Dallas.


@bill.holston1 The reason the lower Trinity is beautiful is because the Corps of Engineers never built levees this far south.

JimSX topcommenter


They talked about the natural beauty of the river. The guy who talked about moving the river was actually saying we should have two rivers. 

We leave the ugly straight Corps of Engineers river where it is but put some or most of the flow back into the natural riverbed abandoned when the river was moved in the late 1920s, early '30s.  That would give us a natural river on the outside of the levees.   

Of course, what the guy probably didn't know was that his idea, which seems sort of wonderful, would conflict with the development plans of the same people who are behind the toll road. Some of the old contours are paved over, and I'm sure they want to keep them paved over. 

In the end, Bill, this is all about river-haters versus river-lovers. The old guard still think the river is a sewer, and their dream of something cool is all about more and more concrete. 

The reason I think these world experts are subversive for Dallas is that none of them is going to endorse that idea, because nobody else in the world thinks that way any more. The fact that the old guard even wants to build this toll road and even wants to do the kind of anti-human development they have in mind just shows how incredibly parochial, out of it and mid-20th century they are.  

My money is on Dallas being a lot cooler than that in the end.The mossbacks just haven't gotten the memo yet. Maybe this will be the memo. 


@PerryMoore Billions of public dollars and a really, really nice, corporate-sponsored parasol..


@JimSX Even though it may be paved over, I suspect there are underground culverts along parts if not all of the old river. It's probably too late, but a flood control dam on the north end could keep the water at a constant depth. This would make the kind of development seen along the San Antonio River possible. But, alas, I suspect it's too far gone to fix.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

@JimSX There's no way to get the sort of speeds we want from our new tollway in a naturally winding river bed.


But concrete is so much more efficient at moving people into and around those ubiquitous retail establishments, Mr. Schutze. Besides, if God wanted you to live in the country, He wouldn't have built all those skyscrapers and freeways for you.


@JimSX people need to go to Google Earth. zoom on Dowtown Dallas and see what the river looks like above and below Corinth. It's a dramatic difference. 

Then look at the Forest around the Buckeye Trail. Those native Buckeyes are fantastic. The wetland cells above Loop 12 are there and can be walked. The paved trail from Audubon to Lemmon Lake can be ridden or walked. People are just afraid to go there. 

Two weeks ago Ben and I hiked from Dowdy Ferry to McCommas Bluff the only two guys we saw were two African American guys on horseback having a great time horseback riding along the old dirt roads down there. We stopped and talked a bit, later we waved at them riding along Loop 12. 

It's a resource alright and can be enjoyed for what it is. 

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