Preston Center Task Force to Ask Residents How Behind the Pink Wall Neighborhood Should Change

The Diplomat's Roof is Playful 60s

The Diplomat’s Roof is Playful 60s. We Love Playful!

Get ready. On October 7th, the Preston Center Task Force will be meeting with Zone 4 (Pink Wallers) to get residents’ “thoughts and ideas” on their “vision for the future” for the neighborhood. Certainly the two properties likely being replaced on the corner of Preston Road and Northwest Highway are not the only properties in the area in need of replacement or renovation. Since I already solved the traffic issues as best as they can here, I thought I’d turn my talents to musing on what the next chapter of the Pink Wall should include.

(What, no one asked?)

Renovation
Any building that wishes to ride out the coming transition should ensure their properties are in tip-top shape. This will ensure that prices rise, potentially making them too costly for development. While I don’t see many architecturally significant complexes in Pink Wall territory, I welcome every complex that wishes to be part of the next chapter. It’s my hope that new buildings will spur the remaining older ones to make the investment necessary to return them to their glory, both in unit interiors and building infrastructure.

Neo-Classic with HUGE Units

Neo-Classic with HUGE Units

In my opinion, there are only two buildings in Pink Wall territory I see as architecturally significant – the George Dahl designed Imperial House and the unattributed Diplomat. Both in their ways typify 1960s architecture in it’s glory. Imperial House is a mid-century classical throwback, perhaps influenced by the Beverly Hillbillies which debuted in 1962, two years before it was built.  The Diplomat, on the other hand, is pure 1960s with its joyous full-vault modernist glory. If you disagree, we’d love to hear.

Unfortunately, the Diplomat, having retained a selling agent to market the property, appears to be the first seeking to fly into the face of the wrecking ball. One can only hope (likely in vain) the verve demonstrated in the original is captured in a new structure.

Replacement
I’m sorry for the rest of the Pink Wall buildings. They may be well-kept with nice curb appeal and wonderful mature trees, but there’s nothing architecturally special – “two-a-penny” as they say. I believe it’s safe to say that no one has ever driven past these buildings in wonderment. If developers want to come in, the city’s architectural heritage hawks will not blink an eye. Of course they didn’t blink as a Bud Oglesby bit the dust either.

One neighbor suggested it would be great to have a single developer craft the whole area to bring about a cohesive design and flow. I like this idea however difficult it would be to achieve. One architect’s vision can certainly have a visual impact that can be lost as too many “cooks” can spoil the architectural broth. I know Candy is not fond of the way the Drexel Park Hollow hogged every possible building inch it could, maybe one reason why the condos had difficulty selling out and are now advertised as luxury apartments for rent. 

Perhaps one way to instill a sense of control would be to apply for a Planned Development designation for the remainder of the Pink Wall area not currently covered by one. I think if the neighborhood haggled out (with professional help) the optimum density and heights for the neighborhood, it would be difficult for developers to pick off complexes one-by-one and build whatever they like. While a PD designation isn’t iron-clad, I think the Planning Commission and Dallas City Council would have a hard time allowing immediate alteration to a plan only recently adopted by residents in favor of developers. However the PD can’t just be about keeping the area frozen in time. That will never fly with the city or the neighborhood. Realistic and informed compromise is the key to success.

However, I doubt the neighborhood’s ability and willingness to go this far. More likely, due to infighting and the longevity of any redevelopment as complexes turn over slowly, a compromise will be needed that encourages adherence to certain standards and design cues regardless of when a structure is replaced. Unfortunately any community “wish list” is ultimately unenforceable.

But here are some of the design concepts that should be explored.

Gorgeous but Unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright Structure in Venice

Gorgeous but Unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright Structure in Venice – Definitely Architecturally Significant

Architecturally significant
I’m a firm believer that if you build structures that are visually stunning, people will pay more to live in them, neighbors will smile as they walk by and may be less obstructive of a zoning change. Stop building architectural dreck (bland neo-Mediterranean for a start). In trying to offend no one, these structures also don’t visually challenge anyone either.

Developers: HIRE A REAL ARCHITECT!

Developers often have in-house designers who concentrate on maximizing space to the exclusion of visual joy and often internal common sense. These are sweatshop architects. More concerned with being inoffensive than producing visual joy. More concerned with density than usefulness, developers should be forced to engage a full-blown, makes-a-living-by-designing-compelling-buildings, capital-A Architect. Perhaps more than one to provide multiple options.

The design is often the least important aspect of a project to a developer and yet it’s what everyone will see for the next 50-years. It’ll be over those 50-years that builder’s beige walls will be painted, builder’s grade kitchens and bathrooms will be gutted, but the exterior of a building will remain largely unchanged until the building is torn down. Spend more time.

Yes, period structures all go through phases from bright-shiny to old-dated to finally classic. We see this with Preston Tower. In its day very au courant, only to spend 20-years as a dated cliché before it’s rebirth as a classic age-defining structure. Embrace this maturation process, don’t shy away from it. Paris hated the Eiffel Tower in its day too.

Keep flats. The Pink Wall buildings are not townhouses with their long narrow rooms and whose expanse is eaten by space-wasting staircases that do not allow residents to age in place.

Construction techniques should also embrace malleability. As living space usage evolves, it’s incumbent on architects to design structures whose purpose can change. I’ve studied multi-family structures from the 1890s to the present and often it’s very difficult to repurpose older structures to capitalize on people’s changing tastes.

In the oldest buildings, people simply don’t live the same way anymore but underlying structure makes them nearly impossible to reconfigure. Buyers wanting these structures must embrace a certain fixed style of living. However, as a result of newer building techniques, a higher proportion of the high-rises of the 1950s to the 1970s are more able to be reconfigured to fit modern desires. I feel this makes them more desirable for long-term usability.

The bottom line: architects must be very aware of minimization and placement of pillars, load bearing walls and plumbing. I can only assume that doing it right requires more thought and budget as many newer buildings aren’t as adaptable.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

Energy Efficiency
We’re just scratching the surface of energy efficiency. It would be wonderful if developers thought of the Pink Wall as their laboratory. New structures should seek LEED certifications. They should employ green roofs to cut energy usage, promote local plant life and offer visual interest to their taller neighbors (slightly self-serving). Green roofs are shown to decrease ambient temperatures by up to 7-degrees, increase the lifespan of the roof by 200-300-percent and reduce heating and cooling needs by 26 to 80-percent. Roofs can be either low/no maintenance or park-like for resident access. Some newer technologies enable green roofs to filter a building’s “grey water” for use watering other landscaping. Very handy during droughts but also responsibly reusing water.

Geothermal HVAC Uses the Earth to Maintain Comfort

Geothermal HVAC Uses the Earth to Maintain Comfort

These new structures could also explore geothermal heating and air-conditioning. These systems exchange heat/cool with the earth beneath a structure and are very energy efficient. For those unfamiliar with the process … typically between 4-6 feet below the surface, ground temperatures are fairly constant year round. An “earth-loop” is installed under a building that carries water through the ground where it matches the ground’s temperature. In the winter this water is warmer than the air and is used to heat the home. In the summer, it’s cooler underground than surface air and so cools the home. Concentrators are used to increase or decrease the earth’s temperatures to the desired level. It’s tried-and-true technology that’s been in use for over 60-years and is extremely efficient and lasts for generations. The only electricity required runs the fans that distribute the air throughout the home.

The best thing about green technologies are the rebates available for builders that often make them nearly as cost efficient as their energy inefficient predecessors. They’re also either pretty to look at or invisible.

Creating a Pink Park

Creating a Pink Park

Underground
In addition to locating heating and cooling underground with geothermal, utilities and parking should similarly be subterranean. Removal of the current alleyway carport shanties would free up space for density (as Transwestern has done). But of more benefit to the neighborhood would be turning the disused alleyways between Northwest Highway and the south side of Bandera into parkland benefitting the entire neighborhood. Many cities are using old railroad lines for elongated strip parks like New York City’s High Line, Chicago’s newly opened 606 and of course, Dallas’ own Katy Trail.

Underground utilities would remove the blight of electrical and communication poles and wires but also provide more resilient service. When a storm blows through, underground wires don’t tumble down. When I lived in south Florida and a hurricane blew through (with some regularity) the only towns with power and telephone were the ones with underground wiring. And yet when downed wires were repaired, they were again slapped onto above-ground poles destined to fall and fail again. Short-sighted stupidity.

The Small Things
With increasing density comes the potential for increasing smells and noises. Developers must be cognizant of HVAC noise and locate units in the least obtrusive places possible. The same goes for trash. More people means more trash and some of that trash can actually be reused.

Create a neighborhood composter so residents can centrally dispose of organic waste. The resulting fertilizer can be used to keep new green roofs and alleyway parks bursting with vibrancy. Heck, with all the new flowering greenery, residents might make space for an apiary to produce Pink Wall Honey! I think we all know bees are in trouble and that we need healthy bees to sustain us.

And never to be forgotten by this avid walker are sidewalks. Let’s correct the mistake made 50 years ago and install wide sidewalks to encourage neighbors to walk and socialize while keeping active. Build on Transwestern’s new sidewalks and connect our neighborhood.

Those are my thoughts on what should happen behind the Pink Wall. What are yours? I’ll report back on what ideas other residents bring to the table when quizzed by the Preston Center Task Force consultants on Wednesday. Stay tuned.

 

Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! sharewithjon@candysdirt.com

 

2 Comment

  • As a former Pink Wall resident who moved on in disgust, I do not see the “NIMBY” mentality of the neighborhood embracing any kind of positive gentrification any time soon.

  • While I agree there is significant pressure to keep the area frozen in time, there is also a surprising number of residents who favor change. Stay tuned for today’s report back from the Zone 4 meeting.