Snøhetta's College Park Pavilion
Deceptively simple in plan, Snøhetta's first built work in Texas has become a gathering place for the community, and along with the other Park Pavilions of Dallas, it is encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and explore unfamiliar parts of the city.
The College Park Pavilion by Snøhetta is the most recent addition to the Park Pavilions of Dallas program. The initiative brings design talent into outlying or underprivileged areas to construct or renovate park shelters. The program is managed by the Director of Parks and Recreation Willis Winters, FAIA. (See his profile in the January/February 2014 issue of Texas Architect). Prior pavilions have been featured in this magazine, and most were designed by Texas architects with some notable out-of-state participation. To date, Snøhetta is the only international office involved. The park structure was initially the firm's second American commission after the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion and is now its first built work in Texas.
How did this unlikely collaboration arise? The answer is both personal history and civic courage. Craig Dykers, one of the two remaining founding partners at Snøhetta, spent time in Texas as a young person before earning his Bachelor's of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin in 1985. Some of his family members still reside in the state today. In 2006, impressed with Snøhetta's work and knowing Dykers's Texas connection, Winters cold-called their new New York office to ask if they were interested. The surprising answer was a resounding yes.
Dykers remembers that working on the World Trade Center project was a “psychologically traumatic project on many levels, so it was a relief to work on something of a smaller scale.” Architexas, a Texas firm, was brought on to assist, especially with issues of construction that benefit from local oversight and coordination. Initial schematic designs began in 2007, but the project was delayed due to slow bond sales. The pavilion finally opened in March 2013 after a 10-month construction phase, with a final cost of $305,000. For Architexas, the relationship with Snøhetta was collaborative throughout the process, giving them shared authorship of the work whose success was recognized with a 2013 AIA Dallas Design Award.
College Park is a thin emerald strip between a neighborhood of single-family homes and Five Mile Creek south of Loop 12 in Dallas. Sporting fields sit against dense stands of creekside trees that culminate in a grassy expanse at the northeast end of the park. Dykers and his team first visited the site in spring and were struck by the vivid blooming colors and the underutilized meadow. Rather than “making an object that would be the center of attention,” Dykers said, “we wanted to frame a view.” Their pavilion captures the meadow vista and, from the other side, looks back to the park entrance. The folded plane, open on two sides, strengthens the axiality of the park's layout. An entry sidewalk deliberately jogs out and turns 90 degrees, allowing one to look through the pavilion before arriving. The approach prizes an isolated view of the park's terminus, pulling users under the canopy and into the landscape beyond.
The design is deceptively simple in plan, with two rows of six columns defining five bays. The steel sections lean outward before turning to span as beams. Each corner of the pavilion is at a different height. The pitch of the roof follows from the tallest corner to its diagonal opposite. There is no ridge beam; rather, the broken shape is created from varying where the canted steel lengths meet. The angles are specific and unique, requiring a high degree of precision during installation. A laser scan of the completed structure was used to size the panels for the as-built conditions.
Steel cladding panels bolt to the inside flanges of the structure and form a single, panelized interior that provides a sharp edge against
which to view outside surroundings. They also act as a diaphragm, strengthening the frames against lateral loading. The diagonal seam in the ceiling is not expressed, but its contour is revealed by fastener locations. Given the secluded location of the pavilion, security was a major concern, so the wall panels are each waterjet-cut with individualized triangular perforations, allowing visibility into and out of the pavilion. The tiled cut pattern is a five-sided shape with three sharp corners and two filleted ones that references the outline of a leaf. Sizing, orientation, and placement of the openings are deliberate to ensure that children are not able to climb the wall panels.
Two colors are used: a warm, neutralizing gray coats the exterior, while the interior is an athletic chartreuse. In summer, this color caps and compliments the range of greens present in the park. Against the bleak gray and brown foliage of a North Texas winter, said Dykers, the light green is a reminder of spring and the first leaves of that season. The green, because of its brightness, is slightly unnatural, leading other sources to call it “tennis-ball yellow.” Winters, in conversation, compared this color to the interior yellow of the light scoops of the Cooper Joseph pavilion in Webb Chapel Park (featured on the cover of the September/October 2013 Texas Architect). That color is seen in comparison to the complementary blue of the sky, while this project uses a closer tertiary pairing of oak leaf with chartreuse.
Because of the bent shape of the pavilion, it is difficult to accurately gauge its scale when seen without people. It appears small until someone walks inside, at which point it snaps back to its proper larger dimension. This formal instability also occurs when walking around the structure from the outside—that is, while using other more remote parts of the park. Watching the pavilion shift is a hidden additional joy for those who keep exploring the area.
Dykers explained the use of non-standard angles throughout the project: “We knew we would be dealing with rectilinear forms, but we didn't want a square because it would draw itself into the domestic architecture nearby, something that might be more normal to people. We wanted it to be abnormal in a certain way so people knew it was not a private structure.” He said the architects wanted to deliver something iconic that would generate local pride, but also something suitable for everyday casual use. The design team's incorporation of feedback guaranteed the project's acceptance by its neighbors. A new playground was included, along with utilitarian metal benches and two custom trapezoidal grills. Since Snøhetta's Main Street transit station for the Houston Metro was abandoned late last year, Dykers joked that he has one project in Texas, and it's a barbeque pit.
The pavilion has become a popular gathering place for the community. Winters notes that positive feedback is seen in the project's lack of vandalism and high weekend occupancy. The pavilion first serves its immediate neighbors, but outsiders arrive to investigate. Winters said “people who would never step outside their comfort zone are now exploring parts of the city that they have never been to before.” Much like Snøhetta's spiky canopy encourages its viewers to circulate out into College Park, the Pavilions program invites residents to visit unfamiliar parts of Dallas to see these unique works.
Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA, is a designer with Baldridge Architects in Austin and a contributing editor to BI (bipublications.com).
This article is expanded content for Texas Architect January/February 2014.