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Mark Lamster Derides Hall Arts Project for Failing to Push the Design Envelope and Other Sins

KMPG Plaza, the first phase of the Hall Arts project in the Dallas Arts District.
KMPG Plaza, the first phase of the Hall Arts project in the Dallas Arts District. Mark Lamster’s not a fan.

I’m not sure who decreed it’s a really great idea to airlift an “architecture critic” from Rome or Berlin or New York or Moscow into Seattle or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, say, and commence telling Seattle and Pittsburgh and Kansas City how crappy their buildings and their ideas are.

But let’s set that question aside for the moment and ask, shouldn’t the critic at least take more than a paint-by-numbers approach replete with all the latest trendy cliches? Case in point: the lambasting the Dallas News‘ Mark Lamster now has visited on the new Hall Arts development, which will go up on land that’s sat vacant for nearly two decades. Here are six “highlights” from Lamster’s review:

1. “… the jury is still out on what Hall Arts will actually mean for the Arts District.” Sorry, Mark, but: big duh. It just broke ground Monday.

2.  “The buildings … are corporate modern boxes that don’t do much to push the design envelope.” Instead, to “push” this vaunted “envelope,” they should be geodesic domes, maybe—or built like Native American wigwams? Big garbage bins turned into swimming pools at curbside might be a nice envelope-pushing touch, too. (See PARK(ing) Day Dallas.)

Renderings that include the proposed second and third buildings of the project.
Renderings that include the proposed second and third buildings of the project.

3. “This is the architecture of upper-middle management: anodyne, competent, unthreatening, and LEED certified. It’s telling that, when KPMG held an internal competition to name its new headquarters, the name they came up with was ‘KPMG Plaza.’ Snooze.” Okay, you got us there! So, what’s your idea for a better name? Come on, don’t keep us in suspense any longer!

4. “That retail is slated for the frontages along Flora is a good sign, but in renderings and models, the streetscape doesn’t look especially active …” Note to Mark: renderings and models are not real. If the rendering/model-makers had rendered crowded sidewalks a la New York’s Times Square, why do we think you would have been the first to hoot?

5. “As the city’s tunnel system has so unfortunately proven, taking traffic away from the street is not necessarily a good idea.” Ask some of the tunnel people their opinion of your opinion, when it’s 38 degrees outside and they’re ducking into Dakota’s for a nice lunch.

6. “I suspect I was the only one at the Hall event that actually took public transit to reach it, which is a shame. (There was free valet parking!)” That’s a pretty big and condescending assumption there, Mark. For your future reference: You will find that valet stations are ubiquitous in Dallas. But their presence does not indicate that everybody uses them, or that everyone here drives.

34 comments on “Mark Lamster Derides Hall Arts Project for Failing to Push the Design Envelope and Other Sins

  1. This is the lamest critique of a cogent critique I’ve ever read. This is the kind of boy-howdy anti-intellectualism that gives Texas a bad name, and it’s beneath the dignity of a valuable publication (D Magazine, that is).

  2. Not boosterish enough for D’s taste, Glenn? Maybe he could write the “Offices of the Ten Sexiest Divorce Lawyers in Dallas.”

    i can remember when D magazine ran a David Dillon piece on Dallas and Houston architecture compared. (Dallas did not fare well in the comparison.) But those were the days when D pushed the envelope.

  3. The banality is hard to miss, cowboy. Why attack Lamster’s thoughtful, challenging review? Instead, tell us what you find appealing or not about the project? Act, don’t react.

  4. Thrilled to have Mark Lamster in town…so that he CAN encourage folks to push the design envelope and think in ways Dallas needs to be thinking. And glad that’s not just talking about building as object, but also street activity (which, like in the renderings, is often an afterthought) and walkability. Just wish D Magazine was a part of the conversation rather than shutting it down.

  5. Am I the only one who finds architecture criticism to be a pointless profession? Has any architect ever changed a building’s design based on a bad review? Have you — the person reading this comment — ever been less likely to enter a building because of what a critic said about it?

  6. If he or she just takes shots at finished buildings, maybe. But that’s not the whole job. A good critic (and Mark Lamster is one) can advocate for things that aren’t being built, and cultivate protest against bad things that have been announced, and engage with the whole city-planning process. It’s kind of an urban public advocate’s role, if it’s done right.

  7. This website might help in educating us on what works and does not work. The developer of Fountain Place understood this when he created it. Look at Klyde Warren Park. I always am sort of amazed at the trouble it takes to even get there, and it is being used. We are starved for public spaces. http://www.pps.org/reference/wwhyte/

  8. As a matter of fact, the glass exterior of the Dallas Omni was changed in response to a critique I wrote of the original plan. Unfortunately, it went from tacky to deadly-dull. And the design of Sammons Park, surrounding the Winspear Opera House, was dramatically changed in response to a critique by David Dillon.

  9. An artist can either allow or not allow criticism to affect his or her future practices. Architecture is an artform. Surely you don’t think art criticism is a “pointless profession?”

  10. Mark wrote a perfectly good critique. He should be applauded for experiencing Dallas as Dallas and not as DALLAS!…like most of the elite experience it.

    Dallas, for the past 30 years, has been incredibly flawed by a Design that is driven by the status quo. If somebody at the DMN can be a voice to change the status quo, then I’m all for it.

    You really need only venture over to Ft. Worth or Austin or even Houston to see that pedestrian-first design can and will change the nature of a city.

  11. Dan —
    The late David Dillon was closely followed — and occasionally heeded — by architects. Art critics, of all kinda, are essential to the health of the arts.

  12. I don’t think the comment about the streetscape being active had as much (or anything) to do with the amount of people and more to do with where those people were placed — above the street, on the pedestals.

    This development was a good chance, maybe one of the last chances, to get more street life — “more vitality to the area,” as he mentioned, which I think would appeal to your average city dweller and the people who think about commercial real estate prices as well. But as planned, it won’t do that. And I don’t think it’s because they are trying to keep people cool in the summer or warm in the winter. I can’t tell why. Maybe they are.

    But more than that, besides for some of the comments you cherry-picked (hey, I do it, too), I don’t really see the “lambasting” of the Hall Arts Development. There is criticism, yes, but I don’t know how much of it is harsh. It’s more questioning. I would say that the harshest criticism is of the city:

    “The city itself should think about the route pedestrians face from the Pearl Street/Arts District DART stop en route to these buildings and the other institutions along Flora. It is unsightly, dangerous (with several commercial driveways), and unmarked.”

  13. When the critic calls your buildings “uninspired” in a tweet linking to his review, I’d say that’s harsh.

  14. How will these buildings affect the the natural lighting inside the Meyerson? Has anyone asked that yet? They will also dwarf Cathedral Guadalupe which could also lead to unforeseen issues. However, the biggest issue is how will these buildings interact with the community. Will they be welcoming? From the looks of it they will not be. The Arts District, for all of its good intentions, remains a destination rather than a community or neighborhood. Ground level amenities are scarce, at best, which makes the district a vacant island after business hours. These buildings, on the surface, seem to do little to alleviate that.

  15. It was generous of Wick to give Forest Gump the opportunity to think and write for your media properties.

  16. The arts district to me is a homage to Brutalism. It is not an inviting space. Another square glass building will keep it at the pinacle of Brutalist architecture and space. So I guess we can say we are #1 at something.

  17. Forgive my pontifical tone but Glenn Hunter critiquing Mark Lamster is equivalent to Steve Blow critiquing Frank Bruni or A O Scott. He’s just a bit out of his league. Perhaps he should stick to the breathless recaps of the rubber chicken lunches unless he brings some substance to the debate. I’m sure he has already received digital love letters from the safe recesses of cool corner offices applauding his loopy defense of institutional mediocrity and his not-so-gentle jab at the “outsider” taking “our city” to task. Weak. Easy. Unoriginal.

  18. “Uninspired” is about as tactful as it gets. Try “lame,” “cheap-looking,” “insulting to better buildings around it” — any of which would have been wholly valid.

  19. I have to confess that, until I read these comments, I really did not realize how many geniuses we have here in Dallas with the ability to visualize, design and put up wonderful, world-class buildings that are just perfect for their settings. So much talent in one place is rare and impressive, indeed.

  20. I can remember when Statler and Waldorf tried to buy you a lap dance at the opera. Good times, good times.

  21. So, we as non-architects, can’t join in the conversation about our neighborhoods and push for something that works better for us? That’s the kind of thinking that creates a mystique around architecture and architects that leads to buildings as sculpture and cities as graveyards. I say bravo to everyone in these comments who have expressed an opinion…whatever it is. That’s what we need more of in this city…people demanding that it be a more vital place to live.

  22. Not going to take one side or the other here…just want to say how great it is that we are having this conversation. All too often, we sit back and take whatever architecture is given us…good, bad, or otherwise. Glad that people are being proactive and pushing for what they want and need…

  23. It’s natural for a blog post to generate praise and criticism. I cannot help but notice that Glenn’s post often have a higher percentage of negative comments; they often question is logic.

  24. Glenn,
    Architecture is the one art in which we can all claim some expertise. Most people know when a building or a corner of the city doesn’t work. We may not know why, exactly. And we may not be able to articulate what isn’t working. That’s where the critic steps in.

  25. I for one .. am happy for ANY development in this city .. this place is frankly skyscraper boring. Maybe all buildings won’t be pretty but anything that fills this desolate space may make it worth walking and living amongst.