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Design Philosophy Targets Sprawl


by Alan Melson 12 Jun 2008

On final approach to D/FW Airport, it becomes painfully obvious: We are in Sprawl Central. As you fly over rooftop after rooftop of big-box stores, low-slung industrial and corporate complexes and endless housing subdivisions, it starts to boggle the mind how much land we’ve covered in concrete – yet much of it is only getting […]

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On final approach to D/FW Airport, it becomes painfully obvious: We are in Sprawl Central. As you fly over rooftop after rooftop of big-box stores, low-slung industrial and corporate complexes and endless housing subdivisions, it starts to boggle the mind how much land we’ve covered in concrete – yet much of it is only getting a comparatively minimal amount of use.

Mirador, Madrid, Spain The issue is more pronounced in Europe, where population density is considerably greater and open space is rare indeed. Enter MVRDV, an upstart architectural firm from the Netherlands that was profiled in the New York Times last week. They specialize in eye-catching, unconventional projects designed to maximize density in a given space without leaving the inhabitant feeling cramped (such as the Mirador apartment building in Madrid, above).

Their ever-growing list of projects both complete and proposed is unusually ambitious, not only due to the exterior design of many of the buildings but also because of what they envision will happen inside. Take this passage from the NYT story about one of the firm’s founders, Winy Maas:

With his messy, teen-idol hair and untucked shirt, Maas strolled the stage extolling the MVRDV credo — maximize urban density, construct artificial natures, let data-crunching computers do the design work — while various mind-bending simulations played across the screen: skyscrapers that tilted and “kissed” on the 30th floor; highways that ran through lobbies and converted into “urban beaches”; all the housing, retail and industry for a theoretical city of one million inhabitants digitally compressed into the space of a three-mile-high cube.

Dallas is not known for being architecturally diverse, aside from a few notable exceptions. But could the relatively recent influx of residents back into the city’s inner core and the resurgence of ambitious new projects (the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, for example) eventually lead the city to be more receptive to the kinds of projects championed by MVRDV and its contemporaries?

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  • Great stuff. I love MVRDV. My question is: Why does innovative and envelope-pushing form have to be in the center? Why not in nucleated spots here and there, along the highway? We certainly have the infrastructure for it…and perhaps even attempts at it. How do we understand Las Colinas but as a corporate-company town and a missed opportunity for exciting architecture. As for this question:

    “But could the relatively recent influx of residents back into the city’s inner core and the resurgence of ambitious new projects (the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, for example) eventually lead the city to be more receptive to the kinds of projects championed by MVRDV and its contemporaries?”

    Most exciting architecture — or for that matter form, whether it be art or architecture — happens at the behest of private funds, and this is the case across the country. We have the money here but what goes lacking is the knowledge of why we need good design and the exact nature of good design. Since everyone in the country seems to be against centralized educational mandates, such as a core curriculum and funds for the arts that comes down from the fed, then it’s up to the citizens in our loosely federated states to see to it that the “people” know about art and architecture. It’s an uphill battle, but I’ve been waging it since the age of 19, when I decided to become an art history major at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

    Here’s to your great blog!

    Charissa

  • There is no reason cars have to go THROUGH downtown Dallas. They can go to or around downtown. Getting the cars out of all downtown Dallas would turn it into the world’s largest and greatest mall – overnight.
    But unfortunately that would require citizen initiative. And Dallas history has only developer based city planning.