April 8, 2005
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 citys 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 didnt care for one anothers 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.
Wed all be much happier if
the two firms were comfortable sitting in the same room together,
says one participant, but theres not a lot of
warm fuzzy feeling between them.
OMAs 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
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 wont
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.