Over the past decade it seems that the common trait of most things boisterous in architecture from North Texas have largely come from the satellite cities surrounding the two major poles in the Dallas / Fort Worth Metropolitan Area. These behemoths of buildings, whether it be in the form of giant stadiums to performing arts centers to bigger and better big box retail, seem to keep coming in droves and more often than not are followed with lofty aspirations that the building will act as the icon for many years to come however, more often than not they see a ten to twenty year span of prominence then fade into the background.
It is not strictly a DFW phenomenon. The complex idea of suburbia and its constant state of flux have warranted this type of activity for many years and in much of the urban conglomerations across the United States. As the cycle of cities continue to evolve, more and more we are finding that the suburbs of the city, intended first as a place of refuge and stability, have become more susceptible to quick turnovers when it comes to demographics or economic status thus without hesitation cities build with hope but often lack the purpose and research behind these particular projects.
When April of 2010 arrived, the next chapter of Irving, Texas was about to be set into motion. Although the city has always been known as an economic hub in the north Texas and the home to several large corporate headquarters, Texas Stadium was the icon. When the implosion took place and the building crashed to the ground, the icon and the stigma brought with it was laid to rest, but for nearly ten years the development of a new icon was taking shape.
The progress Irving has made in the last ten years can be summed up with one look inside Maura Gast’s office. Gast, the Executive Director of the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau, served as the go to person for the oversight of the development of the new Irving Convention Center. Stepping into her office is like walking into an office of a design professor. Throughout the entire space lies drawings, iterations of past concepts, copper screen samples, renderings, and the list can go on. The first piece she pulls from the layers of the past ten years is a baton-like section of concrete. “This is a drilled out piece from the Texas Stadium implosion”, she explains and a symbol as to how the Irving Convention Center came to be.
The idea of a convention center for Irving was born on two key principles, the first being that companies like Exxon Mobil had no place to congregate within the city limits, and the second being that really no one had a large place to congregate within the city limits. In 1999, motions began toward creating a 350,000 square foot convention facility with a hotel on the northern edge of Las Colinas. At the time the focus was centered around the Convention Center itself with further desires to connect the development to a newly implemented light rail system, known today as DART. It was also at this time that the convention center was to match the developed Spanish/Moorish style that is commonly found along the canal that passes through the center of Las Colinas. Initial efforts yielded a concept based around the traditional notion of a convention center where form, circulation, and supportive elements are derived from the main convention hall.
Plans quickly changed when the site was deemed a flood plain in 2006 and with the economic downturn that followed. As the project started from scratch and with an end to Texas Stadium quickly on the horizon, the opportunity to make the convention center something special became a reality. Designed by Hillier Architecture (now merged with RMJM), the building takes on an opposite approach from prior schemes and from the traditional big-box norm of the Convention Center typology. Evocative of the work being pursued by UN Studio, the building takes on an approach that circulation is the key to the building’s functionality, arranging the space in the vertical direction rather than predominantly in the horizontal. The twists in the form derive from this, giving the building its characteristic twist that allows the space to be immensely transparent both internally as well as externally to capture particular views of the Irving skyline. The twist in the volumes works from an environmental standpoint as well, allowing the building to reduce heat gain while creating a series of shaded outdoor public spaces. The vertical orientation also acts to mediate the scale with the site change.
Clearly the defining trait, the copper mesh skin very quickly ties itself to characteristic bedrock shelf that lies below the surface but also serves a multitude of functions for the building by shading the interior, framing views, defining the outdoor spaces, and anchoring the building to its surrounding context. One of the more surprising functions of the skin is its inherent ability to ward off the inevitable roosting of birds, particularly the grackle population.
Although the outside aesthetics suggest an interior circulation and spatial organization as complex, the building is actually rather methodical and simple in its delivery. The main volumes within the space are vertically stacked with support functions following along the perimeter. The view toward the north would yield nothing more than a direct look at the passing DART rail line, therefore much of the back of house elements have been pushed to this side of the building. Passing from space to space is relatively simple with primary circulation and public spaces being located on the north and west ends of the building. The simple layout has managed to allow for clear sight lines between key interior volumes as well as the views that the façade works to frame.
It is a rather well executed building but is not without fault. The façade, although striking to say the least, comes to a rather abrupt halt on the northwest corner of the building, making the Convention Center appearance rather harsh on the landscape. The interior of building’s finish out is clever with its simple use of material change and broad design moves but yet there remains a physical disconnect between the key aesthetic element of the building and its visitor.
One can’t deny the elephant in the room that still remains, the future of the master plan. The building’s success and impact up till this point is largely a result of the Convention Center’s mere presence. Upon approach it becomes very clear as to why particular moves were made architecturally. The harmony between the copper façade and the tan and glass backdrop of the interior volume give the building an acropolis type of stance, commanding a great deal of attention to anyone who passes by. As time has gone on however, the “Spanish / Moorish” style has begun to raise its head once again with the housing developments springing up directly to the east of the building. What the master plan will require is the attention and care that the design of Convention Center has been given.
It is clear the Irving Convention Center is not just another ploy to put a city on the map with a gimmick. The building exudes Irving and Texas on an immensely personal level, symbolically displaying the merging quality of commerce upon the North Texas landscape. It is essentially a diagram of how the city came to be and clearly shows what the Irving of tomorrow will hopefully become. More importantly it is a physical symbol of how a city can get the icon right by fully immersing itself in the very thing it is trying to achieve. It is with that spirit that Irving will fulfill its ambitions for years to come.
No architecture is worse than a missed opportunity. ROBERT intends to open the dialogue of Dallas in a manner that focuses on a collective mindset that strives to uncover the critical, praise the successes, and recognize the potential in the Metroplex. We have a central voice again....but why not many. Whether you live in Dallas or have something to say about it, speak through Robert and submit your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org. The basis is open.