Feb 15, 2018 @ 01:40 PM
John Mariani, Contributor
In the Texas culture wars among Dallas, Houston and Austin, Big D has been investing heavily in making the city a Southwest hub for art, architecture and modern museums, doing so by hiring some of the best architects in the world: Renzo Piano did the Nasher Sculpture Center, Thom Mayne did the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Robert A.M. Stern the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and Naud Burnett Landscape Architects just did a unique addition to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden called A Tasteful Place, a $12 million, 3.5-acre ornamental garden, pavilion and kitchen, along with the Margaret and Jay Simmons Lagoon.
The Arboretum itself—which Dallas boosters boast has always operated in the black—was named “One of the World’s 15 Most Breathtaking Gardens” by Architectural Digest. A Tasteful Place goes well beyond the traditional mission of most other botanical gardens. According to the architectural firm’s president, Kevin Clark, the six-year project was always focused on sustainability and the propagation of plants and vegetables that will be used in cooking classes at the glassed-walled Charlotte and David Test Kitchen, in conjunction with partners that include the Dallas County Master Gardeners and Master Wellness program of Texas A&M AgriLife; El Centro College; the Department of Clinical Nutrition, UT Southwestern School of Health Professionals and the Center for Human Nutrition; UT Southwestern Medical Center; and Texas Woman’s University Department of Nutrition & Food Sciences.
The modernity of the design incorporates the latest environmental technology, like using gunite and bentonite to create the bottom of the lagoon, which will enable the Arboretum to collect rainwater and run-off to fill the lagoon, planted with water lilies, water pickerel, water bacopa, water poppy and lizard tail.
At night the lighted fountain changes colors and sprays 20 feet in the air, while a brook runs under a bridge and connects other sections of the 66-acre Arboretum, incorporating hardy trees like October Glory Maples, Ginkgo, Bur Oaks, Live Oaks, Magnolias, Japanese Maples, Golden Rain Trees, and Vitex Trees that will provide various changing colors throughout the year. In the children’s Adventure Garden, water is used to generate electricity as well as water fountains and misters in the hot, humid Dallas climate.
“From the walkways [around it], we’re intentionally trying to obscure the views of A Tasteful Place until the last moment,” says Clark, “so that once you step inside, you have those ‘a-ha!’ moments.”
Also new to the city’s cultural landscape is the Texas Sculpture Walk in the downtown Dallas Arts District, said to be the largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation. More than 20 works by prominent Texas artists were installed along the walkway from the private collection of Craig and Kathryn Hall, whose 180-story, LEED Gold Certified KPMG Plaza at Hall Arts opened three years ago, done by architectural firm HKS Inc. The 50,000-square-feet property also includes the city’s most acclaimed new restaurant, Stephan Pyles’ Flora Street Café, and the Asian fusion concept Musumé.
Pyles has for four decades been the city’s most innovative chef for his elegant Southwest modern cuisine, and the new restaurant was designed by Jim Rimelspach of Wilson Associates to fit impeccably into the Dallas Arts District. A jellyfish-like lighting fixture moves up and down, opening and closing from the ceiling, and the chandeliers mimic those of famous opera houses around the world. A canopy of backlit amber alabaster panels are suspended over a wide open kitchen and bar, while a large abstract 3D tapestry overlooks the dining room, and a floor-to-ceiling, mirrored étagère holds jars of red chili peppers and yellow lemons.
Houston still likes to brag about its size and Lone Star heritage, and Austin promotes its music and hipsterism. But as Dallas keeps building outward and upward during the current economic boom, the smart money is on the arts and culture for the long run.