Re:Re:Visioning Dallas

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At the end of last week we posted on the Re:Vision Dallas (when will people stop doing the “re:” thing?!) competition — a unique and inspiring international design competition recently held in Dallas for the design and development of what some are calling the greenest or the most sustainable city block in the country. The project brief can be found here. The panel was well staffed and the entries flocked in by the hundreds ( Last week we only briefly talked about the first place winner and since then the top three have shown up on a bunch of other sites, (bustler, inhabitat, treehugger to name a few). So rather than just re-type what’s already out there (i.e. the basic details followed by brief reviews) we thought it best to talk about the top three as a group — as a kind of bellwether, or water mark of current “green-thinking”. So, in no particular order we give you the three finalists of the Re:Vision Dallas 2009 design competition.

The top three are: Entry #193: Forwarding Dallas by Atelier Data & MOOV from Lisbon, Portugal; Entry #113: Entangled Bank, by Little, Charlotte, North Carolina; and Entry #136: Greenways Xero Energy, by David Baker and Partners Architects and Fletcher Studio, San Francisco, California. Individually each project has its strengths and weaknesses but taken as a group, we think they’re actually some of the more forward thinking projects we’ve seen.

As a group a few things are notable right off the bat. Firstly, there is no sign of the now iconic wind turbine in any of the projects and solar panels, now almost invisible have been subtly integrated in to the building skin. In general a covering of vegetative growth directly signifies “green” and “sustainable” instead of those other technological stand-ins. Over all the three projects place more visual emphasis on their literal greenness and passive or “dead-tech” solutions. High tech stuff like pv’s, water capturing devices, and energy saving techniques are under the surface.

Each project, more or less, is then a variation on the artful deployment of vegetation to better serve and conserve; And each project has a particular strategy that ranges between nostalgic whimsy (#193) and the eco-technical (#113). All of which again, have their own strengths. We do find it particularly interesting that a general aesthetic of “the unplanned” has been presented here where projects have ragged edges, off-kilter slopes, and tend to spill out and around their confines. We have a suspicion that this is mainly the function of a residual sense of the “pastoral” unfortunately tied to anything “green” but we’ll give the winners the benefit of the doubt for now.

But more than the visually obvious, what we look for in each project is a reassurance that the designers are presenting a calculated solution to a complex and dynamic problem. For the most part this is true but this is also where we have our misgivings.

For one, each project neglects to address a major component of any eco-sensitive project — time. How are the fluctuations of any ecological system (humans included) planned for and addressed in each project (i.e. what happens when the plants die? or how do you work against establishing a mono-culture?) More over, we see a missed opportunity work with the idea of “people as part of the eco-system” and the design mainly operate as landscaped buildings, not the radical paradigm shift of architectural design that we at least seem to have been expecting.

In short, Re:visioning Dallas seems to have been an immensely fruitful design exercise and assuming that all of the projects equally fulfilled or failed the brief we think it’s a job well done, and a vast improvement from “green charrettes” of a few years ago. There’s more work to do however. Too many of the projects in the public sphere attempt complex design solutions and retread old myths, outdated histories and cultural stereotypes — they amount to stories that can basically be summed up in the old “nature/culture” and “human/animal” divides. Our feeling is that if we solves these core issues first, the design will be radical by necessisty. Oh, and our personal pick would have been #193.

#193: Forwarding Dallas by Atelier Data & MOOV from Lisbon, Portugal
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Entry #136: Greenways Xero Energy, by David Baker and Partners Architects and Fletcher Studio, San Francisco, California





Entry #113:Entangled Bank, by Little, Charlotte, North Carolina




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