2013 Design Conference Wrap-Up

The Second Annual Texas Architects Design Conference: Collections was held in Dallas on Feb. 22-24. The event, co-chaired by Michael Malone, AIA, and Mark Wellen, AIA, was based at the Dallas Center for Architecture. 

New York architect Thomas Phifer, FAIA, opened the event with a discussion of selected residential and public projects produced by his office. Phifer spoke of “grounding” his work through reflections and transparency, and by blurring the distinction between architecture and landscape. His designs used perforated steel panels, glass, and trellises to filter sunlight, reflect surroundings, and open views to both immediate and distant landscapes. 

Phifer also presented a stunning velodrome of red cedar, carved and finished in furniture quality and proposed for a reclaimed site on an urban waterfront. The image of robust athleticism offered a different kind of transparency, one that revealed its function by expressing the weighty, bowl-shaped underside of the arena supported by heavy timber framing, looking much like a wooden ship in dry dock. 

Willis Winters, FAIA, director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, followed Phifer with a presentation on Klyde Warren Park, the newly constructed deck park spanning three blocks of the recessed Woodall Rogers freeway in Dallas. The 5.2-acre park, designed by The Office of James Burnett, links downtown Dallas with the city’s uptown area to the north. 

Day Two of the conference was no less engaging than the Day One. Saturday morning started with a tour of the Wyly Theater featuring a highly entertaining presentation by Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of the Dallas Theater Center. Attendees learned how the Wyly’s architecture responds to the evolving needs of theatrical performances. The talk focused on the relationship between the performers and the audience, and on how the building, designed by 

Joshua Prince-Ramos and Rem Koolhaus, provides a box within which various stage experiences can be produced. 

The afternoon session opened with a keynote address by Marion Weiss, FAIA, and Michael Manfredi, FAIA, discussing their firm’s work in the theme of “inhabiting topography.” Projects illustrated the firm’s commitment to being site-specific, drawing upon environmental, cultural, and historical aspects of the sites for design solutions. For example, a museum built into a steep site in New York’s Finger Lake region, which was carved by ancient glaciers, exemplified “architecture emerging from the earth.” 

Weiss/Manfredi continued with additional projects, each echoing their ideas of “architectural territory” extending into the whole environment, and of creating a site before creating the architecture. 

The day also included a unique opportunity to see houses designed by O’Neill Ford, FAIA, Edward Larrabee Barnes, FAIA, and David Webster George, FAIA, in collaboration with Jim Wheeler, AIA. The tours concluded at a contemporary residence designed by Michael Malone, AIA. 

Conference attendees reconvened Sunday morning at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis. Duncan Fulton, FAIA, and Val Hawes, FAIA, whose firms were also significant consultants to the project’s beginnings through completion, spoke about the process to create the Perot. 

The Design Conference closed after everyone had an opportunity to explore the Perot Museum and its exhibits. It was a superb weekend for seeing distinguished architecture, experiencing great presentations, and enjoying the company of colleagues. 

Thomas Hayne Upchurch, AIA, is principal of Upchurch Architects in Brenham. 

Published in Texas Architect May/June 2013.