Why Can’t Dallas Have Nice Things: The Glorious BIG

I’ve heard the Olympics are over.  One thing fans didn’t see in Seoul, South Korea, were the as yet unbuilt, Cross # Towers designed by Denmark-based BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group).  BIG employs over 450 staff in offices in Copenhagen, London, and New York City. Founding Partner Bjarke Ingels graduated architectural school in the 1990s and founded BIG in 2005 after founding his original firm PLOT in 2001.  Awards? He has a wall full.  Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Rice? He’s taught at them all. In 2016, Ingels was named one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time Magazine. Oh, all this and he’s 43.

BIG is the second architecture firm I’m begging to come to Dallas (Studio Gang was first).

The Cross # Towers are a seemingly simple residential high-rise comprising four interconnected elongated boxes (two towers and two bars). And they kinda are.  But they’re also exceptionally well proportioned, offering different views from every angle.  Angles are important to Ingels.  Not only exterior appearance, but how those angles capture the outside from within the building.  Ingels’ designs are very concerned with sunlight, open space, and green. His style is also not easy to bucket, making BIG far from a one-trick pony.

You will also note what I always say to those afraid of tall buildings — the two vertical towers look to be the same height, but they’re not.  One tower is 32 feet taller. At no point, except on the roof of the shorter tower, would that be noticeable. If it were a 32-story difference, that’s one thing. But if the addition of a few unnoticeable floors is what a builder needs to create something stellar, beg them to take the floors. It’s part of the reason I always look at a project before simply rejecting its dimensions out of hand.  Execution is huge.

Speaking of green (Helloooooo, are you listening Dallas?), looking over tons of BIG’s projects, they all seem to share a use of green roofs and exterior green space. In the Cross # Towers, the connecting tower bridges at 230 and 460 feet off the ground are roofed in green parklands for residents that compliment ground-level green spaces.

To Dallas builders pooh-poohing green roofs as being leaky, get with the program.  Green roofs are used the world over, control rainwater runoff, reduce heat islands, conserve energy, and double the life of the roof.  They can also be a lot lighter than you imagine (depends on type).  Green roof technology has been cracked for years.  So I repeat, get with the program.

King Street West, Toronto

There is a lot going on with this building that’s currently under construction in Toronto.  The two biggest things that jump out is the dramatic roofline and all the green.  What you may be missing is that the non-white buildings at ground level are older existing buildings that were incorporated into this richly modern design (called façadism).

Imagine walking along the street and experiencing the preserved architecture of the existing neighborhood punctuated by modernity. It’s a successful counterweight to the horrific modern spaceship dumped into Chicago’s historic Soldier Field by Boston architects Wood + Zapata.

You may also not have caught the ground-floor walkways into the building that lead to central courtyards and preserve existing walking paths through the neighborhood.

But of course it’s the roofline that is tremendous.  The building consists of interconnected boxes of equal size (like pixels) that are canted 45 degrees to capture more light and air. The multileveled topography and its accompanying outdoor green spaces overlay a modern forest on an urban environment. The views from within or from neighboring buildings will be tremendous when the building is completed.

Lego Towers, Copenhagen

Following the multi-layered rooflines of King Street West, the proposed Lego Towers plays off Copenhagen’s skyline of centuries-old church spires.  The plot was divided into a 12-foot square grid where pieces were stacked to differing heights achieving organic towers. It reminds me of what happens when you lay a cloth napkin flat and pick up one pinched section.

The result is a series of terraces that connect to tall spire residential towers with sweeping views and additional green space.  It’s likely that from directly overhead one would only see a solid green carpet.

The model above illustrates how undulating and complex this design really is.  It also shows how, placed within a neighborhood of almost completely uniform structures, this building would produce a church-like reverence from neighboring windows lucky enough to catch a glimpse. With the lowest levels connected to ground level, the neighborhood is invited to come and play on the lawn.

Wing Buildings, Copenhagen

When I talk about PD-15 and the desire for new buildings to get their angles right and twist away from the existing towers, I think of buildings like this.  In the case of the Wing Buildings, the twisting was created to take advantage of the views of the site’s waterfront.

Seen head-on at night, the structures’ drama is revealed.  In decades past, this kind of twisting was impossible, but modern engineering solves the problems. While living dead-front on the water has obvious charms, I can’t help but think the best unit is the top, left, back unit that seems to be in frozen collapse.

Honeycomb/Albany Marina Residences, Bahamas

Best for last.  Definitely. Best. Currently under construction in the Bahamas, Honeycomb is my personal pick for “Most Jaw-dropping.” Not only is the façade simply incredible, but it’s also masterfully unbelievable. Hold on to your hats … err, swim suit.

Each of those hexagonal honeycomb balconies has a secret.  There’s a small swimming pool located at the edge, fronted by a transparent “railing”. As you can see above, the deepest and most concentrated portion of the pool is located above a support column to handle the added weight of the water.

Looking at the building’s model, you see the pools more clearly.  What you can’t see is how sunlight will play off the ceilings as light is reflected and refracted off the water and onto the ceilings of each unit.  At night, imagine a light in the pool illuminating and reflecting the rippling water onto a darkened ceiling above a candlelit dinner. This isn’t architecture, it’s foreplay.

I’ve gotten some grief from builders bemoaning the larger budgets these projects require and that Dallas’ two-for-a-penny reality doesn’t make these types of buildings possible here.  My response is, “Have you even tried?”  Sure, Dallas isn’t going to see swimming pool balconies any time soon, but when I look at the creativity and mastery of Cross # Towers or Lego Towers or Wings or even Honeycomb (without the swimming pools), I have to wonder.  These are very basic, repeatable shapes arranged in a different pattern. It seems to me that these stellar buildings are more dependent on developers without the jadedness of repetition than a supersized budget.

As Dallas’ urban neighborhoods continue to grow, and neighbors face the prospect of a supersized building next door, beauty counts. Show me one neighbor thrilled to look out at any of the ugly and cheap-luxury apartment buildings Dallas continues to build?

If Dallas wants to be a big city, maybe it needs to be a BIG city. Their New York City office number is 347-549-4141 … operators are standing by.

 

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

3 Comment

  • Thank you for advocating for superior architectural design in the city of Dallas. Developers repeatedly argue that the current land values don’t justify a more expensive building and that the math only allows for stick construction. This reasoning, based upon yesterday’s land value makes a great profit for the financial investors and leaves those who live and work here with stagnant and declining growth. If we allow these cheaply built, super-sized, unhealthy buildings to infiltrate our urban core, it will be a stain on our city and one that will be highlighted and criticized for years to come.

    • mm

      Absolutely. And it’s also easy to see that a city can’t have all exceptional buildings or it starts to look like a Middle East or Chinese cartoon city. On the upside, Dallas has plenty of blandness that a few well-placed gorgeous buildings would shine against.

  • And Snyder’s Union one of the most beautiful areas of Dallas will be left with stick building blandness because 3 story zoning will not allow any high rise to accentuate the area.