The Epic development in Dallas negotiates the boundary between downtown and Deep Ellum through form, material, and urban design.
Preservation Architect Skotnicki Studio
General Contractor Balfour Beatty US
Civil Engineer Kimley-Horn
Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti
MEP Engineer Schmidt & Stacy
Landscape Architect Talley Associates
Interior Designer Busta Studio
The Epic is a mixed-use development located on Elm Street between Downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum. With a master plan designed by Perkins&Will for Westdale Real Estate Investment and Management, it consists of two commercial high-rises, a residential high-rise, and a hotel. The project deploys materials and forms to create a considered transition between the skyscrapers of downtown and the low-lying, brick, historic fabric to the east. The development’s two office towers, for example, are glass-clad, while the residential tower and hotel, which includes an adapted historic structure, are wrapped primarily in brick. The buildings also step down in height from west to east — the high-rises standing at around half the average height of downtown’s towers, while the hotel, which is on the eastern edge of the site, is seven stories tall.
While this negotiated scale change is a nice feature of the project, what it does at the ground plane is more impactful. The architects opened up streets and paseos through the site, integrating the development within the urban fabric, as opposed to sealing it off within its own privatized mega-block. The choice ensures a comfortable pedestrian experience and frontage for retailers, setting up a framework for vibrant urbanism. “The internal street widths were sized to match the sizes of existing Deep Ellum street widths, so that scale and proportion felt familiar and seamless,” says Ron Stelmarski, AIA, Perkins&Will design director for Texas.
Epic 1, the first of the two office towers to be completed, is designed as a series of four stacked boxes totaling 16 stories that are shifted in elevation and plan. It was “a multifaceted decision in the spirit of ‘one move can address multiple situations,’” says Stelmarski. The move somewhat mitigates the tower’s mass, offers some advantageous solar orientation, opens up exterior balconies on certain levels, and directs views to either side of Epic 2, which is rising just to the west.
The shifted box scheme bears a passing resemblance to a number of recent tower projects by OMA, not to mention SANAA’s New Museum, especially considering that expanded metal mesh was also used on Epic 1. It wraps the parking garage and covers the soffits beneath the overhangs. One appealing feature of this material as it is deployed here is that it appears as opaque or transparent depending on the angle of view. The mesh is also used on the ceiling of the lobby and in the elevators, establishing a connection between inside and out.
The parking garage forms a podium that sets up a roof garden on the seventh floor. Perkins&Will’s master plan establishes podia and roof gardens on all buildings in the development on this same level, including The Hamilton, the 26-story, brick residential tower, which was designed by StreetLights Residential with LRK. It’s a nice touch that creates a second ground plane. The outdoor experience is epic, to say the least. The view from this amenity sums up the goals of the development as a whole, as the viewer is able to simultaneously experience downtown and Deep Ellum, seeing in one glance murals on century-old buildings and glittering high-rises, while listening to the ambient hum of the freeway beneath the overarching sky. The experience is similar within the offices, enclosed as they are in transparent floor-to-ceiling glass, without, of course, the sound of the freeway.
Of all the structures in the Epic development, the 164-room Pittman Hotel includes the only historic building on site and is perhaps the most pivotal. It is on the historic register and was originally built in 1916 for the Knights of Pythias of Texas, an African American fraternal organization, and was designed by William Sydney Pittman, who was the first black architet to receive a federal commission. The old structure was in a highly dilapidated condition when the project began. Preservation architect Gary Skotnicki, AIA, referenced old photos, of which there were precious few, to redraw the facade as it originally appeared, since the storefront had been ripped out and replaced long ago. An old window, entombed in an interior wall, provided a blueprint for recreating the historic glazing. The hotel’s contextual modern addition is respectfully separated from the existing building by a glass connector. Its brick walls and punched windows create a staccato rhythm along the edge of the site that is sensitive to the historic context without mimicking it. As the addition reaches the north end of the site, farthest from the Knights of Pythias building and closest to Epic 1, the brick cladding transitions to metal panel, signaling that here, too, a transition is being negotiated with sensitivity. If such good intentions prevail, hopefully Deep Ellum, which is itself undergoing the transition of gentrification, will also find itself in the future both preserved and renewed.
Alyssa Kazew is an artist based in Austin.