Thursday, May 10, 2007

Modern Architecture in the MetroMess

There's nothing I enjoy more than a good Internet pissing match. Well, actually, there's A LOT of things I enjoy more, but an Internet pissing match will do to pass the time.

This particular one is between Anthony Mariani at the FWWeekly and the good folks the Fort Worth Architecture online forum, which is -- IMHO -- one of the great online discussions about civic life in the Fort. The people at the Fort Worth Architecture forum are passionate about this city, opinionated, educated and knowledgeable. It's a good read that I highly recommend.

Anyway, this all started with Mariani's piece on modern architecture in Dallas and Fort Worth. The gist of the article was this: although Fort Worth is proud of its examples of Modernist and contemporary public architecture -- the Amon Carter Museum (Philip Johnson), the Kimbell Art Museum (Louis Kahn), and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Tadao Ando) -- Dallas is poised to jump into the lead with its Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and the Trinity River project. Mariani ended the article by saying "as Dallas boldly looks forward, Fort Worth should think twice about looking back. In other words, fellow Cowtowners, get your digs in at Big D while you can."

This article certainly raised the hackles of the architecture geeks at the FW Architecture forum -- and I mean architecture geek in a positive way. I thought the comments made some interesting points, but devolved into cheap shots and Dallas vs. Fort Worth rhetoric (which is a WHOLE post unto itself). My take on it was the architecture geeks were mostly right, and Mariani was flat-ass wrong, at least in regarding public architecture in the two cities.

While Dallas certainly is taking great strides in its public architecture with what's going on in the arts district, I'm not sure that Rem Koolhaas' design is going to redefine the way anyone in the Metromess looks at public architecture. As a proud member of the Cowtown tribe and self-proclaimed architecture geek, I ain't gonna wet my pants over this one. I'll put our museums up against anything in Big D and feel good about it.

And throwing out the Trinity River Vision as an example? Spend anytime at Unfair Park or Frontburner, and you'll see that people in Dallas have mixed feelings at best about that little boondoggle. Is it a parks project? Is it a highway project? Who knows? And how will all that money that Dallas voters approved be spent? And the Calatrava Bridge? If it is ever built, it will get you to Ray's Sporting Goods faster, but what else?

That being said, if you want to talk about things that Dallas is doing right, how do you not mention the Nasher? It's a sublime architectural experience.

OK, enough of the piling on Anthony Mariani because I thought he did bring up an interesting point: progressive residential construction in Fort Worth is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. To quote the article:

The third wave is one of the most progressive residential developments in the country. Urban Reserve, located on the east bank of Upper White Rock Creek, introduces Modernist and architected single-family speculative tract housing into North Texas’ hodgepodge of cottages and colonials, Tuscans and Tudors. Think flat roofs and fake fa├žades rather than houses of seven gables and protective (or confining?) white columns.

At the vanguard of a burgeoning nationwide movement, developer Diane Cheatham’s 13-acre project is further evidence that, from the vantage point of today, Modernism isn’t as foreboding as it seemed during the height of its popularity in the early 1970s. Urban Reserve and similar housing developments apply to cul de sacs the philosophy of Target superstores: offer exceptional contemporary design at reasonable prices. Nearly all of the 50 proposed dwellings have already been sold.

Coupled with the performing arts center, Urban Reserve will put Big D on the map, as an international destination and a place for design connoisseurs — rich and not so rich — to call home and be congratulated on their urbanity.

So, Dallas has the Urban Reserve and Kessler Woods Court and many other fine custom-built examples of modernist architecture sprinkled through town. And, Fort Worth has -- what? -- Village Homes? Nothing, really, except that house down in Burleson that was in Dwell Magazine

That's not to say there's anything much to write home about regarding affordable modernist residential architecture in the Metromess. And I know lots of people think that modernist architecture has to be expensive. Not true. KRDB architecture in Austin is doing really nice, yet affordable, modernist architecture in A-town. Austin even has its own modernist subdivision. Why not in Fort Worth? Is there no market for it here? Is it just that people prefer Tuscan fantasy crap? Now that's a story I want to read!

However, Anthony Mariani couldn't leave it alone. Anthony, you should have just walked away. Yeah, you took some cheap shots. But you have to hold your head up and just walk on by. Trading cheap shots may feel gratifying, but it ain't very professional. Just snap your panties back into place and move on.

However, Mariani made a good point:
To many respondents, comparing Fort Worth to Dallas — or one city to another — is a fool’s errand. Suggesting that there’s some sort of rivalry between Cowtown and Big D is an even bigger affront to reason. But twin cities such as Minneapolis-St.Paul, Winston-Salem, and Fort Worth-Dallas aren’t “normal” metropolises. Especially in regard to a potential visitor or resident’s perception of the city, twin cities must be evaluated differently, meaning that one twin cannot be assessed as a place in which to live or sightsee without considering the other. The identity and vitality of each depends on the cross-pollination of ideas and, more significantly, location-specific cultural resources. We have the Cultural District and are either loved or envied by Dallasites for it. Dallas will have an enormous, spellbinding performing arts complex and will be either loved or envied by us for it. (The normal folks, not caring about city limits and hotel-motel tax income, will be glad just to have more cool stuff in the region.) Each twin feeds off the challenge of meeting or surpassing the other’s cultural resources, for the sake of fueling the health of the entire region.

You make a good point, except for this: "Suggesting that there’s some sort of rivalry between Cowtown and Big D is an even bigger affront to reason." While technically correct, you're point is spiritually flawed. Most old-time Fort Worth residents make a hobby out of hating Dallas while most most people in Dallas regard Fort Worth like they do San Angelo or Abilene -- it's out west somewhere. You need two sides hating each other to make a rivalry. That said, there is a rivalry and the reason it is not an affront to reason is this -- it's fun. Yeah, it's stupid and it may not make sense but it defines the DNA of many here in Fort Worth. We're from Fort Worth, we damn sure ain't Dallas. Cross-pollination be damned!

Now give me an ice-cold Rahr Stormcloud and a chop beef sandwich from Angelo's and I'll be on my way.


Andy N said...

Exactly right!

Pete said...

I'll take the Stormcloud, but you can keep the Angelo's... I might go for Railhead, but for REALLY good BBQ, you've got to go up to Metzler's in Little D. Totally worth the trip!

Steve-O said...

Actually, here is my FW BBQ hierarchy:
RIBS: Angelos, with Railhead a close second.
SAMITCHEZ: I like Riscky's for the sliced beef sand. It's a little fattier and juicier. Plus the sauce is great. BUT, I must say I like the link sausage sand at Railhead.

Damn, I'm hongry now.

I do not know this Metzler's of which you speak, but I wish to find out now. Thanks for the tip!