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Is the New Wave of Super Big Buildings Wretched Excess? Or Is Bigger Still Better?

With the NFL season less than a week old, the new $1.15 billion stadium for the Dallas Cowboys may be the most talked about piece of architecture in the country.

With the NFL season less than a week old, the new $1.15 billion stadium for the Dallas Cowboys may be the most talked about piece of architecture in the country.

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Designed by HKS, the go-to architecture firm for splashy sports arenas, Cowboy Stadium has gained notice this week mostly for a flaw: its $40 million high-def Mitsubishi scoreboard that bafflingly hangs 90 feet above the field–low enough for A.J. Trapasso, a Tennessee Titans kicker, to bang a punt off it during a preseason game.

Cowboy stadium

The low-hanging scoreboard notwithstanding, the stadium is notable for its whopping dimensions–it seats 100,000 and the “world’s largest operable glass doors” open up behind each end zone–at a time when conventional thinking favors modesty and moderation. On the other hand, who would expect a stadium in Big D to be anything but a hollering XXX-Large.

Koolhaas

Big projects are like runaway trains–you can’t stop them just because the economy sours. As a cultural counterpoint to the stadium, a performing arts center opens in Dallas next month with ambitions of becoming the Lincoln Center of the South. It certainly has the architectural credentials: the $354 million complex includes an opera house and outdoor stage by Norman Foster. An accompanying 600-seat theater (above) by Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas dispenses with the traditional layout of a performance space. By moving the foyer, box office and other support areas above and below the auditorium Koolhaas opens the performance space to the outside. When the blinds are closed it’s a darkened box; when they’re open downtown Dallas joins the backdrop.

meyerson symphony center

Of course it’s not all that surprising that Dallas should build a grand-scale arts center. The city has a history of lavishing oil money on cultural facilities, including the Meyerson Symphony (above) designed by I.M. Pei in 1989. Still, it’s jarring to see large complexes continue to open a year after Lehmann Bros folded. It takes so long to build big architectural projects–the performing arts center has been underway for almost a decade–that they can seem stangely out-of-keeping with the moment.

Chrysler building

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When the Chrysler building opened with steel ornaments and spires months after the 1929 crash it reflected the shiny optimism of a past era. The same may be true of Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles as projects initiated in a time of gangbusting prosperity open their doors to a chastened world. The issue won’t be whether it’s good architecture, but whether it’s good architecture for this moment.