Project ArchiTX: Sundance Square

Surrounded by a pedestrian-centric, urban landscape and thoughtfully articulated buildings, Sundance Square, by David M. Schwarz Architects, Bennett Benner Partners, and Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, brings community space back to downtown Fort Worth.

Fort Worth civic life bustles with the square's multiple programs, including a stage, a jetted fountain area, and shading from invertible umbrellas –photo courtesy Sundance Square Plaza

Project Sundance Square, Fort Worth
Client Sundance Square
Design Architects David M Schwarz Architects​
Architect of Record Bennett Benner Partners
Landscape Architects Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
Photographer Steve Hall

The completion of Sundance Square and two adjoining buildings in November 2013 marked a milestone achievement in the downtown Fort Worth renaissance, bringing new residents, new services, and a spectacular civic gathering space to the neighborhood and the city.

Sundance Square is the primary outdoor public-gathering space in downtown Fort Worth, and one of the most
significant outdoor gathering spaces in the entire region. The importance of such a citizen-minded plaza was 
identified when its development plan was first drafted in 1988. Since then, downtown Fort Worth has seen the development of dozens of new buildings, and the cultivation of a walkable, pedestrian-oriented urban environment.

The 55,000-sf Sundance Square was envisioned as a significant civic amenity for the citizens of Fort Worth. With this in mind, the design team studied many of the world’s greatest public squares — from St. Mark's Square in Venice to Union Square in San Francisco — to understand their programming and features. It was determined that the square was to be defined by two office buildings, the Commerce Building and The Westbrook. This design decision would activate the streets that the buildings faced while offering ground-level retail and shade for users of the square.

On the east side of Sundance Square, the five-story, 84,000-sf Commerce Building thoughtfully steps down to the south, where it meets the historic Land Title Building. Similarly, it steps down to the north in deference to the existing Knights of Pythias building.

The Commerce Building forms the backdrop for dining and events at the square. The facade of the building is broken into three distinct parts that each relate to the scale of buildings in Sundance Square, particularly the existing historic Land Title building –photo by Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing

On the west side of the square, a symmetrical and monumental massing was more appropriate. The Westbrook, a six-story, 84,000-sf mixed-use office building incorporates a permanent stage and a clock tower, further signaling the square’s civic purpose. Like the Commerce Building, The Westbrook’s corner steps down to acknowledge the lower-scaled buildings that define the Sundance Square neighborhood.

The plaza environment is defined by a rich and timeless palette of materials, colors, textures, shapes, and sounds. The Westbrook's facade acknowledges the building’s civic role, providing a prominent clock face –photo by Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing

The  City of Fort Worth, the landscape architects, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, and the design team programmed Sundance Square to close Main Street, which bisects the site, in order to fully realize the value of a cohesive public square. The design was crafted in such a way as to allow Main Street to continue to visually connect the Court House, which anchors it on the north, and the Fort Worth Convention Center, which anchors it to the south. While Main Street is now raised to the level of the square, each end of the street is sloped down at the precise angle so that the livestock in the annual Fort Worth Stock Show parade can still walk the entirety of Main Street.

Complementing the historic Jett Building to the west, a glass and metal pavilion, which houses a multi-use, indoor/outdoor space with large overhead garage-style doors and restrooms, sits to the east in front of the Commerce Building.

With the Texas sun being a constant presence, three components of the square were designed with shading and cooling in mind. A cascading wave wall over granite provides a calming effect, while a 216-nozzle jetted fountain provides a refreshing play area for children. Finally, four 40-sf invertible umbrellas provide shade during the day, and illuminate the site at night, displaying vibrant colors and images for all to see.

The installation of over 200 jetted nossels makes for a fun place for children to play as well as cool down in the hot Texas summers –photo courtesy Sundance Square Plaza

Sundance Square plans –courtesy Michael Vergason Landscape Architects

"Project ArchiTX" is a column on the Texas Society of Architects blog that highlights outstanding architectural projects in Texas, as well as projects designed by Texas architects. The series combines an architectural narrative written by the architect with a photographic essay illustrating the features and techniques demonstrated in the design process. Is there a project you'd like to see featured in "Project ArchiTX"? Email communications@texasarchitects.org to let us know.