In our ongoing series, Interview with an Architect, we speak with leading voices in the North Texas architecture community and learn about their work, development issues in our community, and good design practices and principals (you can read the last one here).
Ross Conway, AIA, LEED AP, is Senior Associate and Design Director in the Lifestyle Studio at Gensler’s Dallas offices, where he has worked for almost 14 years.
His portfolio includes big names like the Dallas Cowboys Headquarters (The Star) in Frisco, the Legacy West addition in Frisco, Preston Hollow Village, The Shops at Park Lane, The Gate in Frisco, The Music Factory in Irving, and the Brazos Riverfront in Waco.
One of his current tasks is the $100-million Bishop Arts redevelopment in North Oak Cliff, an enterprise he calls “a once-in-a-career project for me.”
Conway grew up in Arlington and earned a Masters degree in Architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington. He and his wife recently built a house in Urban Reserve, a Lake Highlands neighborhood of 50 modern, single-family homes, designed by a select group of regionally and nationally recognized architects, including Evan Beattie, the first person we interviewed for this series. He’s also on the architectural review committee there.
CandysDirt: Where are you with the Bishop Arts redevelopment?
Ross Conway: We will finish the design in next few months, and [developer] Exxir Capital wants to start construction in August for phase one. We want to gradually grow it over a two-year process, getting it built out to let people get used to it, and to take into consideration people’s concerns.
CD: You say the Bishop Arts redevelopment is a once-in-a-career project. Why?
RC: Additions like this are what we really like to do—taking broken or underperforming parts of the city and revitalizing them. Right now, Bishop Arts Avenue has a thriving component, and that’s about a two-block area. The rest of it is kind of broken and run down. What we want to do is extend the Bishop Arts vibe further.
We’ve asked ourselves, how do we add without killing what’s there? We’re spending six times as much design time on this project as what we might do for something else. We’re building 20-foot-wide streets with three-story buildings on each side, filled with cool little shops, the kind that have to bring in their tables each night. We’re bringing a kind of European idea of pedestrian movement to the area, meaning it doesn’t just happen along the main streets, but along the back areas and plazas and smaller parts, too. It will have a main plaza and a chapel, a funky building that will be available for all kinds of civic and private affairs. This chapel will be one of the most used spaces in Dallas because of its flexibility.
CD: Some apartments in the Bishop Arts redevelopment will be small, 500 square feet or less. Why did you choose to include that size?
RC: Bishop Arts will have about 500 residential units, and like living in Manhattan, it’s the amenity of the area you’re coming for. What we seeing in almost all these units is that the ones that are 500 square feet and smaller, they are the first ones to go. Millennials like the idea of having less to take care of, less to pay, with the ability to stretch their income. They also desire to be in the midst of things. One popular space is the microunit, which is 325 square feet.
CD: You and your team created the master plan and design at the Legacy West addition in Frisco, which you say is almost an ideal development in its mix of components and programatic mix. How so?
RC: Ideally, a huge campus should be like a small city, in that it’s self-contained with living, working, playing, hospitality, civic, and possibly a medical component. The Legacy West addition has almost everything except the civic part, but at north end is a park that is a joint venture with Toyota, whose campus is right across the street.
Also, the Legacy West addition has high-end luxury soft goods, which you don’t see as much anymore—it’s a unique thing. Most mixed-use developments we are working on now are almost all restaurant and entertainment, 70 or 80 percent of them. Retailers are not expanding like they used to and bigger stores are closing down because the Internet is so much more prevalent. But you can’t go out to eat on the Internet.
CD: Why did you and your wife decide to build at Urban Reserve? Your wife, Aaron Danielle Conway, is an architectural interior designer, so with both your talents, it must be a spectacular space. Tell us about it.
RC: We wanted a lot around $100,000 and to live in city, and Urban Reserve is inside the 635 loop. We got a 40 feet deep by 100 feet long, up against a DART rail, and the last third of the lot is a cliff and forest—it has great aspects. Because of that, we decided to create an outdoor room. All the walls on one side are giant five-foot-by-ten-foot doors that open up, so that outdoor living area is as big as the house.
The house has simple finishes, but a very clean and trim look. It’s also a LEED gold house, so our energy bills are almost nothing, and if we added solar panels, we could go off the grid.
CD: How did you come to be on the architectural review board at Urban Reserve?
RC: The developer and I hit it off and I have commercial and residential design experience. These are not typical houses at Urban Reserve. My placemaking skills are expertise and I’m able to educate homeowners who are trying to do something counter to the vibe of the neighborhood, like building a house designed to cut them off from the street.
We want the houses there to be as connected to the street as possible. You want to make sure the people living in the house can have privacy when they want it, but can open up their houses and expose what they’re doing to the street. The houses have outdoor rooms and it’s a pedestrian environment. There’s so much going on and it’s entertainment, walking up and down the street. You’re always going to see something, you’re going to meet someone.
CD: What’s your favorite building in Dallas, residential or commercial, and why?
RC: My favorite building is in Fort Worth, and it’s one of the top 10 buildings in the world, in my opinion. The Kimbell Art Museum is elegant, it makes you comfortable, it serves its purpose, and its proportions are simple and classic. It’s so hard to do beautiful, timeless architecture. Usually things are so dated by the kitschy design movements of the day that everybody ends up using. But [Louis I.] Kahn’s Kimbell didn’t do that.