• Promotional materials for Field Street Tower hail the building as “The New Gateway to Dallas.” - rendering © Green Grass Studio

This site serves as a gateway to the world class neighborhood at its doorstop. With protected frontage on Woodall Rogers just a few steps away from Klyde Warren Park, an iconic tower has the potential to not only impact the Dallas skyline, but to dominate it for generations to come. It will offer the best views in its class and become the preferred view for surrounding projects in the CBD, Victory, and Uptown growth corridors.  

— from the Hillwood Urban website, presenting the Field Street Tower

Dallas-based Hillwood Urban has announced its intent to construct a new 38-story office tower. This will be the tallest skyscraper built in Dallas in the last 30 years. A video on the project’s website informs us that this is “The New Gateway to Dallas,” “The New Centerpiece of the Skyline,” “The New Icon,” “The New Standard,” and “The New Vision.” 

Reunion Tower and Fountain Place better be prepared to do some rebranding.

Whether or not any of those claims are true has yet to be seen, but the design and presentation materials don’t make for an auspicious start. The Field Street Tower is yet another new silver glass tower in the Dallas skyline, a dubious material choice in this time of climate change and carbon-neutral buildings. Everything about the building seems retro — from its late ’60s vertical mullion skin to the twisted plan that contorts to fill the site and address the nearby Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Klyde Warren Park (both of which are in the center of downtown and stretch the credibility of the “New Gateway to Dallas” claim). Even the renderings seem oddly akin to the those popular in the ’50s and ’60s, and this character is also carried into the animations, providing a sense of what the spaces will be like for users to inhabit. And if the entourage is any indication, the users inhabiting these spaces will include few people of color.

Although the project is 38 stories tall, only 23 of these are to be occupied by people. The other 15 are dedicated to an above-ground parking garage that is sheathed in the same glass as the offices above. This arrangement necessitates a sky lobby on level 16 — a requirement listed as one of the building’s amenities, along with the adjacent one-half-acre “sky park.” It is unclear from the website if these are public amenities or just for the building’s tenants, but the inclusion of smartphone-controlled passenger elevators suggests security clearance will be required for access.

The project will pursue LEED Silver certification, commendable for a commercial project of this scale. It’s hard to understand how a hermetically sealed, all-glass tower with a third of its stories containing parking will achieve that elevated standard, but it’s good to know it’s being pursued. It is also suggested this building is designed for a post-COVID world, but based on the sample floor plan provided on the website, most of the people working there will still be sitting close to one another in cubes or at benches. Supporting the claim are statements that include “ENHANCED SANITATION PROTOCOLS,” “CLEANER AIR,” and “UV-C AIR SYSTEMS” (caps provided by Hillwood Urban), some of which are tied more to maintenance and operations than to the design of the building itself.

All of this is being provided and conceived by what the website identifies as Visionaries. Hillwood Urban is the developer; Pickard Chilton the design architect; and BOKA Powell the architect of record. They are joined by OBJ for the design of the landscape, which includes the 16th-floor sky park. The building’s site sits among some rich architectural pickings: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners’ Fountain Place and its new companion, AMLI Fountain Place, by Page, are neighbors. Across the freeway is the Perot Museum, designed by Morphosis, and then there’s the Arts District, with buildings by Allied Works, Foster + Partners, and REX/OMA, as well as some signature ’80s work by Richard Keating, FAIA, and SOM. If Field Street Tower’s goal is to be a foil for them, the announcement and website materials suggest great success. But aspiring to be the “new standard” and “new icon” seems a stretch. The website touts the building as featuring “breakthrough design, breathtaking views, plus every amenity imaginable.”

I get that these statements are all marketing-speak and the claims of the developer, but it seems to fit a pattern often seen in speculative buildings, those conceived without an actual occupant: Written materials intended to drive demand and occupancy are often hyperbolic, as if just stating that your building will be “the best” will make it so. But landlords compete for tenants based on economic considerations, so it is understandable that bombastic statements are tempered with reassurances that the project was built as inexpensively as possible to achieve affordable lease rates. Tenants apparently need to think they will inhabit carefully considered and thoughtfully executed structures, so the landlords trot out all the features of the building, however dubious or unprovable, to appear to substantiate their claims. 

The promotional materials for Field Street Tower are no better or worse than most, except that the architect, Jon Pickard, FAIA, himself is quoted in The Architect’s Newspaper stating the building will serve as a “new centerpiece of the city’s skyline.” I know the firm’s Devon Energy Center can make that claim about the Oklahoma City skyline, but Dallas? Not so easy. The press announcement also characterizes the building as a new gateway to Dallas. Really? As a Dallas resident, it is hard for me to imagine an office building, however excellent, supplanting either DFW Airport, Dealey Plaza, Klyde Warren Park, or any of the interstate highways that snake into downtown as the true gateway to Dallas. If so, there are more visible high-rises with more distinct silhouettes that might claim that position. True, the building’s adjacency to Klyde Warren Park surely adds cachet, but “gateway to the city”? Hardly. The recently completed work at the ambitious AT&T Discovery District makes a far more compelling case for being a new centerpiece of the city and much more of a gateway to downtown, if crowds of visitors are any indication.

I am not intending to pick on Hillwood Urban or Pickard Chilton or Field Street Tower, but I do think there is a gap between intentions and realities. A project like Field Street Tower can best be judged once it is built and available for use and evaluation. Only then will the completed structure become identified by the users and public as the new centerpiece of the skyline or gateway to downtown. Similarly, factors like occupancy numbers and the layout of individual workspaces will have more to do with whether it truly succeeds at being a healthier and more sustainable building. 

It is great that the team at Hillwood Urban and their architect aimed high. We will all be anxious to see the completed building, for then we will we be able to tell how well it meets its ambitious goals.

Michael Malone, FAIA, is the founding principal of Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects and president of the Texas Architectural Foundation.

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