Innovative Architecture in Texas

A weekend tour across North Texas proves that national and international architects consider the boldest and grandest state an exciting palette for their most innovative designs.

Whether it’s soaring arches against a bright blue sky or bold angles against a smooth-as-glass reflecting pond, modern architectural elements in Texas are rivaling those in cities around the world. Some of the best examples can be found in the neighboring cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Recently I had the opportunity to revisit both cities and explore a few of these amazing spaces.

Dallas

Beginning with the Dallas Museum of Art in 1984, the city’s Arts District has grown each year in its reputation as a hallmark of high culture. The Crow Collection of Asian Art, the Nasher Sculpture Garden, and the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center represent three dazzling facets of this city-center jewel. On my last visit, I was excited to finally see one of the more recent additions, the Winspear Opera House, designed by Pritzker Prize–winner Norman Foster.

My husband and I were exploring Klyde Warren Park—a 10-acre green space constructed on a deck that hides the freeway beneath it—when we came upon the Winspear. The first thing we noticed was the sky canopy. A system of steel beams radiating out from the building on all sides, the canopy drew us into its shade, where we then noticed the second amazing sight—a 60-foot-high seamless glass facade surrounding the bright red exterior walls of the central performance hall.

Inside, the hall is in a traditional horseshoe shape, affording marvelous acoustics as well as great views from every seat. Just when we thought we’d oohed and awed our last, I looked up to see a 40-foot-high, cone-shaped chandelier that seemed to be suspended in midair.

After checking out Annette Strauss Square, an outdoor performance space, we headed west to see two very different bridges.

Commissioned by the city from Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge opened in 2012. Staring at its profile against the sky, I was reminded of that “Jacob’s ladder” string game I played as a child. The bridge spans the Trinity River from Downtown over to West Dallas and is supported by a 400-foot white steel arch. Twisted through the arch and down to either side are 58 thick steel cables. It’s those that create the bridge’s magnificent weblike appearance.

Curious about the fate of the former bridge, we discovered that once the new bridge opened to automotive traffic, the old, 1933-era Continental Bridge next to it became a unique public park. Walking along the ingeniously renovated concrete structure, we saw kids romping around a soft-scape playground while adults made use of the bocce ball court and the meditation labyrinth.

Fort Worth

Not quite an hour’s drive east of Dallas is Fort Worth, which used to be a major livestock destination on the Chisholm Trail. From our home base of the Ashton Hotel Downtown, we toured the galleries of Sundance Square and took pictures in front of the Water Gardens. Designed by the noted architect team of Philip Johnson and John Burgee, it’s a fascinating structure of water cascading down 40 feet of terraces and stone steps into a deep blue pool.

I’d been to several of the arts venues in the city’s famous Cultural District, but not the Modern Art Museum, locally known as just “The Modern.” Opened in 2002, this Tadao Ando–designed museum consists of five two-story, block-shaped pavilions that appear to float on a 1.5-acre pond.

The flat roofs and geometric shapes were softened by the landscaped setting, which included an outdoor sculpture garden. Inside, cast-concrete floors reflected the soft natural light that poured in from a series of skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows.

As luck would have it, we were there on a Friday night—the only night the museum’s Café Modern serves dinner. Sitting in the circular, glass-walled dining room, we enjoyed a great meal as the sunset reflected off the surrounding pond.

There was a wait for tables, so we moved to the bar to order our dessert—Tropical Tiramisu—where we ended up discussing our recent architectural finds with another couple. When they discovered we were from Houston, they asked about the James Turrell Skyspace, an open-air performance venue on the campus of Rice University.

The last time we’d been to the Skyspace was for one of its regularly scheduled Twilight Epiphany events. Topping a pyramid-shaped, grass-covered hill, the Skyspace is a flat, white-steel canopy with a 72-foot square hole in the center of the roof. As the sun goes down, beams of colored light set to music dance on the ceiling of the canopy and shoot out the overhead opening, interacting with the changing natural light. It’s difficult to describe the experience, but it’s even more difficult to forget.

FUN FACT
The chandelier that hangs from the ceiling of Dallas’ Winspear Opera House is a masterpiece of engineering. As audience members enter the hall and fill their seats, the chandelier—318 LED light tubes seeming to float in an upside-down pyramid configuration—functions mainly as an art piece. At showtime, the tubes slowly retract into the ceiling, leaving a flat field of “stars” that disappear once the performance begins.