• Formerly defensive and opaque, the redesigned ground level provides a shaded sanctuary to the surrounding city. Photo by Dor Baldinger, FAIA

Location Dallas
Client CES Holdings
Architect Gensler
Design Team Zach Edwards, AIA; Cindy Simpson; Ian Zapata, AIA; Christopher Goggin, Assoc. AIA; Justin Bashaw, AIA; Denise Bates; Pheba Thomas, AIA
Photographers Dror Baldinger, FAIA

Tucked away in a far corner of downtown Dallas, the tower at 400 Record Street has, for decades, been a quiet presence. Though hard to miss from a distance due to its height amid the surrounding low buildings, it was barely noticeable at street level. The pedestrian entries were guarded by deep planters and large expanses of solid walls. The building is bound on two sides by public squares, a rare commodity in Dallas, but it did little with these assets.

The new owners of the building engaged Gensler to completely reimagine the building’s presence and interface with its surroundings. Gensler identified the following characteristics of the 1985 building: opaque, enclosed, guarded, and heavy. The renovation sought to change each of these characteristics so that their antonyms would be more appropriate descriptors of the finished product: transparency, openness, engagement, and light. The designers removed the defensive planters and created open public space on all sides, enabling visitors to approach the building from multiple directions. The addition of a large canopy stretching from one facade through the lobby to the opposite facade creates a protected outdoor terrace and extends the entry experience out to the property line.

In contrast to the austere and underutilized outdoor spaces of the original building, Gensler sought to create exterior spaces where people would want to linger, even in the hot summer months. Planters and benches dot the covered outdoor space, providing ample opportunities for a peaceful moment or casual conversation with a co-worker. With louvers positioned to block the majority of direct sunlight, the space below is comfortable and open.

Perhaps the most striking element of the redesign is the restaurant, clad in an aluminum copper alloy shingle. Completely foreign to the design language of both the original building and the renovation, it makes no attempt to conform. While the shock may turn off some, it can also be seen as a welcome, creative, and even whimsical addition in a city largely composed of banal, corporate architecture.
The way that Gensler took a prevalent archetype — the 1980s auto-focused office tower — and opened up the ground floor and plaza to the surrounding city is chief among the merits of this project.

“The reason we chose this project was that we hope that it sets an example for other commercial buildings in downtowns to begin to think about how they can relate to urban environments,” design award juror Mehrdad Yazdani, AIA, says.

As American cities become more pedestrian-oriented and active, it will be important to utilize, and even expand upon, this precedent for the repositioning of many other existing buildings.

Andrew Barnes, AIA, is founder of Agent Architecture in Dallas.

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