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Coldness Between Koolhaas and Foster Could Impede Progress at Dallas Performing Arts Project

What was conceived as a dream marriage is starting to look like an episode from Divorce Court.

In 2001, the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, the $275 million centerpiece of the city’s Arts District, commissioned Foster & Partners and Rem Koolhaas’ Office For Metropolitan Architecture to design its new opera house and multiform theater. Center officials touted the collaboration as a provocative union of techno sleekness and messy vitality, and the firms also agreed to work together on a master plan for the large and critical public spaces between their buildings.

Skeptics pointed out that Foster and Koolhaas didn’t care for one another’s work, or one another, and that a fruitful collaboration was probably a long shot. It looks like the skeptics were right. Although fundraising is marching along ($170 million so far), and both the opera house and the theater are in design, the big chill continues. Architects for the two firms rarely turn up in Dallas at the same time, preferring to communicate by emails, conference calls and intermediaries. The situation is frustrating arts center officials, who complain privately about poor coordination and “once-a-month access” to the decision makers.


“We’d all be much happier if the two firms were comfortable sitting in the same room together,” says one participant, “but there’s not a lot of warm fuzzy feeling between them.”

OMA’s theater is in design development, an 11-story story cube with a 600-seat performance space at street level and offices, rehearsal rooms and a cafe stacked above. The skin is extruded aluminum that resembles a billowy theater curtain.

The opera house – a glowing red ellipse wrapped in shimmering glass - is farther behind, in part because of uncertainty about the size and cost of a sunscreen for the exterior of the building. It has fluctuated from a restrained eyebrow to a sprawling freestanding structure covering roughly four acres.

Further languishing are the streets, plazas, parks and other public spaces that will connect the cultural monuments. Koolhaas and Foster had lobbied for and got control over the master planning process, only to pay practically no attention to it. “Great architecture won’t be enough,” says a key board member. “We need a great place for the community to be, and that means all the public spaces have to be wonderful too.” Yet after two years there is still no site plan, and landscape architect Michel Desvigne has presented only a few blue-sky renderings that seem to have little to do with Dallas or Texas.

The Performing Arts Center is scheduled to open in 2009, although the third piece, a publicly funded $25 million City Performance Hall (SOM-Chicago and Corgan Associates, Dallas) is in limbo awaiting bond funds.

The broad goal is for these pieces to come together as great civic place; the fear is that they will end up as discrete architectural and cultural monuments.

David Dillon