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.
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?