How Dallas Got Its Groove Back

HOW DALLAS GOT ITS GROOVE BACK Rice University’s Stephen Fox on David Dillon, who died Saturday: “This was how he found his vocation: he wrote the cover story for the May 1980 issue of [Dallas magazine] D called “Why is Dallas Architecture So Bad?” Dillon’s critique was electrifying. Although he did list the best new buildings in Dallas (and offered Houston as a case study of enlightened architectural patronage to which Dallas should pay attention), Dillon’s story revealed the important social role an architecture critic could play as a public intellectual. The next year the Dallas Morning News hired Dillon as its full-time architecture critic. Until his retirement in 2006, David Dillon was the only newspaper journalist in Texas whose only job was to write about architecture and urban development—and to write critically. Nearly thirty years later, the difference Dillon made is measurable. It’s now Houston that looks enviously at Dallas when it comes to ambitious architecture and imaginative civic spaces. [OffCite]

12 Comment

  • Yeah, I wonder what’s happened in Houston. I’ve thought for some time that the design quality of local commercial architecture has declined in the 30 years I’ve been here. Did Gerald Hines fail to mentor somebody, or what? Oddly, while there’s still a lot of builder schlock around, I think there has been improvement in residential quality, at least in some neighborhoods.

  • I agreed Mitch. I hope the next great Houston architectural icon take notice of Dallas urban development from the past 10 years. The good news for Houston is the recession allows the city and its people to step back and reflect on the errors made by other cities rapid urban development, so that it won’t repeat the same mistakes. With that said, I hope the De Menil Collection museum people hired the best architect around the world for their next expansion project, the same goes to the HMFA.

  • I didn’t know we looked at Dallas with architectual envy. I sure don’t envy their skyline, not even a bit, and it’s not just because their Dallas either. I give credit when credit is due, but their downtown surely does not deserve it. I supposed their talking about suburban corporate campuses?

  • Agreed. It’s painful to see Dallas make such bold and innovative AND comprehensive urban planning decisions that repeatedly result in enviable places to be, to live, to work, and visit while Houston is still being held hostage by the no-planning, no-zoning, no-telling anybody what to do with their property mentality (unless it’s to widen a freeway, of course).
    Dallas’ Midtown is an awesome, urban, walkable, cool place to live and work, with some truly fantastic architecture, while Houston’s Midtown is a hodgepodge of mostly suburban style development that completely ignores the fact that it is not in the burbs. Sad, it could have been the most incredible urban area in Texas, but we blew it. Hopefully Houston will get its act together sooner than later. The Dallas Center for the Performing Arts is another stunning example of Dallas getting it done – the right way. Houston has another shot when the downtown USPS land and buildings are abandoned. What we do there and with the re-alignment/re-building of I-45 on that side of downtown will tell the tale.
    Houston would certainly be better off with a legitimate full-time architecture critic. Ralph Bivins never met a developer he couldn’t praise or a building that he and the Chronicle would criticize seemingly not willing to piss-off potential advertisers in the paper. CITE rarely if ever criticizes current buildings, I guess for fear of pissing-off AIA members. It’s a shame that the 4th largest city seems too insecure to subject itself to criticism, even self-criticism.
    Nevertheless, I’ll remain an optimist for now and hope for a better designed future for urban Houston; I gave up on the burbs long ago, except for the The Woodlands whose “urban” development is nothing short of amazing. Dallas being better than Houston at anything makes my heart ache.

  • I’m not at all partial.
    I wasn’t born in TX, though I … came straight to Houston!
    And now I have this tune stuck in my head – Jimmie Dale Gilmore et al: “Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night? Dallas is a beauty, Dallas gives a beautiful light…”
    love them Flatlanders!

  • To have an architecture critic, we’d need an actual daily newspaper, instead of the Shopper’s Daily Chronicle.

    Midtown depresses me every time I pass through it. Such an amazing location, so full of potential, transformed into a big pile of crap.

  • Where exactly is midtown Dallas? I never knew such a place existed.

  • what a load of bs. im shocked that someone from the dallas morning news stated that dallas got better architecture after he started working there. completely shocked.

  • @htownproud

    Actually, Houston architectural historian Stephen Fox was making that argument.

  • why let facts like that get in the way of my rant :)

  • @Benjy Compson

    When I was an architecture student at UH I took a class from Stephen Fox. He takes public transportation to work. He was one of the most intelligent person I’ve ever met and he knows so much history about Houston.


    Don’t worry, the good news is that Houston had such a large land area that it can expand it’s urban development in other pockets of the city. The Galleria area, east of downtown, the old Binz area, Sharpstown, etc. are chances for the city to experience and learned from other cities. Meanwhile, Dallas is stuck and done with expansion. The other Metroplex cities such as Ft. Worth might copy what Dallas does.

  • Was out of town so missed this exchange but I am compelled to say @ John’s comment #4…..BRAVO!!!
    I couldn’t agree more.