From its inception in 1963 and completion in 1965, through its subsequent expansion in 2006, NorthPark Center was envisioned as a space to promote art and culture and remains a culturally active public space for residents and visitors of Dallas today. For this reason, NorthPark Center has been recognized with the Texas Society of Architects Architectural Landmark Award, which honors an architecturally significant building or structure, or group of buildings or structures, in Texas completed more than 50 years ago and continues to inspire the profession today.
NorthPark Center was developed by Raymond Nasher, Hon. AIA, and designed by Earle Grady Hamilton, FAIA, of Harrell + Hamilton (now OMNIPLAN). Hamilton, who was known for his “restrained design” methodology, employed an elegant, minimalist material palette to carefully control natural lighting in an integrated sequence of modular spaces with simple structural expression. The distinctive modernist design reflects the dignity, order, character, and integrity that Nasher’s team set out to create. In their desire to avoid the linear mall typology commonly used at that time, they designed an L-shaped center with undulating interior walls. Hamilton’s timeless design, combined with Nasher’s collection of world-class art — including works by Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Jim Dine, Jonathan Borofsky, James Rosenquist, and others — was Hamilton’s favorite project of his career.
In 1995 Nancy Nasher and her husband David Haemisegger took ownership of NorthPark, and in 2006, they spearheaded the shopping center’s largest expansion, which added one million square feet of space. They hired OMNIPLAN to lead the expansion, with the intention of maintaining the architectural integrity of the original iconic design. Together, they deliberately and thoughtfully incorporated the essential design principles of the 1964 structure and utilized the same classic material palette — the custom white East Texas brick made for NorthPark, polished concrete floors, and warm bronze details. Despite a gap of nearly 40 years between NorthPark’s opening and the expansion, the shopping center maintains a sense of classic timelessness throughout. “NorthPark’s success has always been its abundant natural light, its simple material palette, and its composition as a series of beautifully proportioned rooms,” says OMNIPLAN principal Tipton Housewright, FAIA. “The most important consideration [in the expansion] was how to create those same qualities in a two-story building without mimicking the design from 40 years prior. Incorporating the essence of the original — and at the same time reinterpreting it — enabled us to honor the original while making the center new.”
With the 2006 expansion, the original vision of NorthPark to serve as a civic, communal hub was fully realized, creating new spaces for the public to enjoy. It allowed NorthPark to become a fully looped square for visitors to easily navigate with CenterPark — a beautifully landscaped, 1.4-acre garden — in the middle of the loop. Both in the original design and the expansion, NorthPark consists of spacious open courts connected by corridors, a feature inspired by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that is intended to encourage visitors to linger. Each storefront is nearly identical, framed by the NorthPark brick, with minimal, squared-off lines and the NorthPark logo marking each corner, allowing the focus to remain on the storefront itself. Rather than commercial kiosks that create visual clutter, the owners reserved these common areas for impeccable landscape, water features, and museum-quality artwork for display to the public.
One of the most striking features at NorthPark Center is the ample natural light provided through the expansive skylights and clerestories. The design and texture of the ceiling’s exposed precast concrete members painted white, the polished concrete floors, and cream brick allow the light to dance through the curated interior plazas. The natural lighting scheme is continued throughout the new addition with new ceiling and clerestory patterns introduced. The introduction of natural light into the spaces contributes to the unity and harmony of the space.
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for NorthPark’s uniqueness and its success is it is a family-run business. Actively involved in all aspects of the shopping center, the owners have placed great attention to detail on everything from the design of the center to the retailers selected, to the landscaping used throughout.
NorthPark is the only shopping center in the world with nearly 50 museum-quality modern and contemporary artworks on view. The work is a selection from the Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection, with artworks occasionally on loan from surrounding institutions. Though the center aims to display some of the most influential art of the last century, the curatorial focus is on artwork that can be appreciated by the wide variety of visitors the center receives daily. Both the original portions of the center and its well-conceived addition embody Nasher’s vision of creating a place of community that shares his passion to bring art to people in their everyday lives. Says Housewright: “NorthPark’s most important legacy is demonstrating that a commercially successful retail center can also be a great piece of architecture. It continues to build its legacy on exceptional art and architecture, elevating the experience of shopping.”
Anastasia Calhoun, Assoc. AIA, NOMA, is the editor of Texas Architect.