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Monday, June 14, 2010

Main Street Garden

Main Street Garden in Dallas, Texas by Thomas Balsley Associates

Recent high-profile projects in downtown Dallas have been cultural buildings located north of the city's skyscrapers. These include the Nasher Sculpture Center by Renzo Piano, Norman Foster's Winspear Opera House and REX/OMA's Wyley Theatre, all in the Dallas Arts District. The Main Street Garden runs counter to these in its focus on public space and landscape and its location on the south edge of downtown. Regardless the project is as significant as the cultural buildings, especially when seen in the context of the area's redevelopment.

Designed by New York's Thomas Balsley Associates after a competition win, the garden fits a lot of programming into its 1.7-acre (0.7-hectare) city block. Spaces include a lawn with stage, a playground, a dog run, a fountain, a cafe, shade structures, and a terraced lawn. The plan basically rings the lawn area with the small-scale spaces, landscape and furnishings. Access to the park happens at the corners marked by graphic pylons; the linked axes are fairly irregular, making the movement through the block more memorable. Ultimately the plan is a simple parti activated by diagonals and the siting of the different programs.

At pedestrian level the design is a mix of hard and soft: paving, seating, pavilions and grass, trees, other plantings. A mix is typical, but here there is a balance where the two general types of design features play off each other to create a sort of architecture-landscape hybrid. The architectural elements that stand out the most are the bright-green, L-shaped pylons illuminated by LED lights; these pieces define and shade seating areas on wood planks. Also standing out is the cafe/restroom pavilion featuring an overhead plane raised on a number of slender columns. Located in the northwest corner, the structure strongly defines this part of the garden opposite the fountain.

How the garden plays a role in the redevelopment of the area is an important question. It echoes Chicago's Lakeshore East development, among others, where the central park was completed before the surrounding buildings; the park became a symbol of investment in the area and a place for early residents to enjoy. In Dallas the garden should become a popular place for its performances and other uses, bringing residents and others to the area. How and if it spurs further development will surely be visible in the years to come, but as of now the optimism is tangible.

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