INTRO: From a former cotton field to a new forest on the University of Texas at Dallas campus, ever-greening a dry, flat public landscape has transformed the north Dallas flatlands and generated a tree program way beyond its initial planting. Joan Davidow, director emerita of Dallas Contemporary, has more in this commentary that aired this morning on KERA FM.
- Listen to the commentary:
- Read “Shaping the Campus and the City,” Jerome Weeks’ report on the symposium The Designed Landscape.
Joan Davidow: When I moved to north Dallas in 1981, I was assailed by the concrete environment and missed Florida’s tall green pines. Where was the green to soften the city’s hardness?
The same question came up ten years earlier when the McDermotts traveled a one-lane road along the cotton fields of far north Dallas to view the future site of University of Texas at Dallas. Eugene excitedly praised the setting, while Margaret queried, “But where are the trees?”
UTDs early buildings were “unplanned and shabby,” says Provost Hobson Wildenthal. The 1970s brutalist buildings (modernist monumental architecture of raw, unfinished concrete) seemed perfect for a campus dedicated to training engineering students.
But now thanks to a $30 million gift and UTD’s patron saint Margaret McDermott, the campus glows in green. She followed the late Ray Nasher’s suggestion to engage the Nasher Sculpture Center’s landscape architect Peter Walker.
Walker’s plan is bursting this season. His stunning creation plants 10 acres of UTD’s huge campus with 5,000 new trees. The plan features a large stand of irregular native planting, yet I just wish for greater commitment to eco-friendly plants. Mixed with the allees of trees, I want to see native grasses and ground covers of a waterless landscape, so we can build and preserve the environment simultaneously.
My wishes for xeriscaping shrivels compared to Walker’s transformative design giving the campus a grand new entry and a gathering place: elegant magnolia trees, low reflecting pools, and a huge terraced pavilion laced with misting water. Life-sized outdoor chessboards honor UTDs acclaimed chess team. President David Daniel knows it’s a success, now that a student has asked to marry on the mall!
UTDs plantings have nurtured a tree-planting commitment by the City of Richardson. While jogging along a treeless mile two summers ago, Richardson councilman Amir Omar dreamed up Richardson’s Tree the Town plan that will plant 50,000 trees in the next 10 years. Mr Omar’s vision has expanded: He’s paired the Texas Tree Foundation with 40 north Texas cities committing to plant 3 million trees in the next 10 years. And new to me, in 2002, TXU initiated another commercial tree planting effort and has planted 160,000 trees across Texas, recently adding 25 to Eastfield College.
40 years after her first glimpse of the property, Margaret McDermott has brought trees to UTD. The greening softens the hard concrete exteriors and has sparked the largest tree-planting program in America!