I usually let readers digest a “Why Can’t Dallas Have Nice Things” column before I post a fresh installment, but last night the Dallas Architecture Forum presented Christian Veddeler from Amsterdam-based United Network Studio (UNS). And Dallas really needs to see this firm’s work, if for no other reason than the questions that were asked at the session.
I won’t bore you with the questions, but the answers can be summed up as, “the reason Dallas has such boring architecture is because fantastic architecture requires developers with inspiration, a decent budget (though not always), and a local bench of talent (architects, engineers and craftspeople) capable of constructing such buildings.” Dallas, it seems, is starved of all three … well, unless a Dallasite needs an ego boost with a self-funded, self-named bridge, theater, museum or park. Which, don’t get me wrong, are great and every city needs them, but we also need great architecture in the profit-making world too. (Besides McKinney and Olive, the first in 40 years.)
I mentioned budget not necessarily requiring stratospheric spends because as Veddeler pointed out, many of their projects are municipal (train stations) or education facilities (universities) where money is more carefully spent.
One questioner posited that great architecture just isn’t a US thing. Balderdash. Visit New York, Los Angeles, Miami, or Chicago. Each of the stellar architecture firms I’ve profiled have constructed multiple projects across the country. Two of Veddeler’s examples were from Chicago and New York. I will admit larger US projects have been elusive for the firm, but as the photos below show, it’s not because they’re not talented. The fault is ours.
Central Business District: Tongzhou, China
A series of six riverfront high-rises were designed as a sculptural composition forming three sets of two buildings that when seen from the upper connections appear to be grouped as two, three, and a single tower. Of course the upper bridges are the first thing you notice. They’re meant as public spaces for residents and to act as a closer connection to the ground for upper level residents. Perhaps the second thing you note is the amount of green not just on the lower levels, but scattered throughout the exterior of the building and across the sky bridges.
But look closer. You will note that the horizontal window lines are crossed by dramatic and interconnected diagonals that reach from the top of one building, across its face to connect with the sky bridge that reaches another building before continuing crossways down the building. You will also notice the upper floors are more translucent with glass while the lower floors seem denser as more structure is revealed. It’s almost as if the buildings disappear as they reach higher into the sky.
Scotts Tower, Singapore
Currently under construction in Singapore, the 31-story Scotts Tower contains 231 homes ranging in size from one- to four-bedroom. The building’s concept is one of a vertical neighborhood. In addition to the residences, there is parkland incorporated into the design. Above you can see the rooftop park along with a glimpse of the awe-inspiring 25th floor sky terrace.
The sky terrace houses a grand amenity deck and green space for residents to enjoy their down-time. In addition to the pool, there’s a resident lounge/café for relaxing in the (very) great outdoors. The cut-in is angled to make the most of daylight, reflecting the palate of the sky.
The perfect location to watch the sun’s comings and goings, the frame is illuminated to the neighborhood. I know I’d want to be with a glass of champagne at sunset every single night. Wouldn’t you?
Tour Bioclimatique: Paris, France
The lines of this high-rise are simply ravishing. One reason is the difficult site, a cramped triangle of land adjacent to Paris’ Peripherique at the edge of the 15th Arrondissement. The plot fairly points at the Eiffel Tower.
If you hadn’t noticed already, the less brash but equally captivating piece of this tower are the windows. A top to bottom puzzle of sizes adds a critical and mesmerizing component to this building. It would be a joy to look out my window at this building.
W21-22 Office Building: Baku, Azerbaijan
This five-level office building could easily be confused with a residential mid-rise with its ribbon-waves of outdoor terrace spaces. The building is part of Baku’s transformation of part of the “Black City,” where the country’s oil industry flourished, into a new “White City” as part of a 2021 master plan. The result will be commercial and up to 19,700 new residences housing 50,000 residents.
Ravel: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Living in buildings of this quality is often described as living in a work of art (and it is). But Ravel takes the concept further by incorporating a 50,000-square-foot museum and exhibition space within the project. Imagine the art lover not enthralled by taking an elevator from living room to the latest exhibit. There’s even a rooftop park connecting the two residential sections surrounding an unseen inner courtyard of windows facing an oasis of water features and greenery.
The exterior of the building is full of movement as balconies seem to curve and intersect across the face of the buildings. Diamond-shaped corners actually bend inwards producing an almost stacked box effect. Ravel was a competition entry that is, as yet, unbuilt.
Wafra Tower: Lusail, Qatar
Lusail is Qatar’s master-planned smart city just north of Doha. Wafra Tower is a 23-story residential high-rise located in the city’s marina district. The tower rests on a three-story podium housing resident amenities and featuring a rooftop garden, pool, and outdoor gathering place. The exterior of the building pretends to be an optical illusion but rather is a series of repeating undulating balconies of varying depth.
Seen up close, what appears random is orderly as you focus on the regularity of the windows and less on the dramatic balconies. The endcaps offer respite from the Arabian sun as well as privacy from a neighbor.
Nearer the ground it’s evident the spine of the building visually cleaves it in two, giving people above and below the perspective of a building parted … bookends waiting for a book.
Twofour54 Zone: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Like the Central Business District that began this look into UNS, Twofour54 is a series of buildings designed to act as family. In this case, the Mena Zayed area of Abu Dhabi wanted to create a “media precinct” as a centerpiece for the regions creative industries. The goal is to bring the public in contact with the creative process and encourages participation. Think studios, production facilities, educational opportunities and conference facilities.
All this centered among a convivial set of residential, retail and restaurant spaces. The concept is truly space age and slightly Jetson-y, resembling the show’s slightly off-square television monitors.
It’s funny, the best thing about listening to Veddeler wasn’t the building porn he showed, but rather understanding the thought process behind these tremendous projects. The sheer depth of thought and math and calculations and modeling and insight that goes into a project earns them another level of respect. However hard we’ve thought about solving a problem, it wouldn’t even scratch the surface of what a great building requires. Certainly computer modeling continues to allow envelopes to be pushed in architecture and engineering, but the glint human creativity can’t be over-appreciated.
I can’t wait for the Dallas Architecture Forum’s next series of architect lectures. In the meantime, let’s all keep our fingers crossed a visionary Dallas developer calls on one of these masters.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.