Built For Man’s Abscence

“this was an environment built, not for man, but for man’s absence.”
― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise

Wells Fargo Tower in Fort Worth, Texas. Click on image for a higher resolution image in Flickr.

Wells Fargo Tower in Fort Worth, Texas. Click on image for a higher resolution image in Flickr.

I have always been fascinated with the view of skyscrapers, looking up, from the sidewalk beneath. They cease to be buildings and are converted into insane abstract constructions.

Love/Hate – what amazing examples of man’s imagination, ambition, and effort – yet they are also the least human of buildings. From the street they are nothing but glass walls with tiny openings guarded by armed guards. Man is not welcomed into his own creations.

(title paraphrased from High-Rise, by J. G. Ballard. I wrote about it here).

Looks Through A Closed Window

“Looking from outside into an open window one never sees as much as when one looks through a closed window. There is nothing more profound, more mysterious, more pregnant, more insidious, more dazzling than a window lighted by a single candle. What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind a windowpane. In that black or luminous square life lives, life dreams, life suffers.”
― Charles Baudelaire

Window washing job I couldn't do Downtown Dallas, Texas

Window washing job I couldn’t do
Downtown Dallas, Texas

Broken And Reassembled Every Day, To Preserve An Elite Few

“All the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Skyscraper and Clouds

“What about guns with sensors in the handles that could detect if you were angry, and if you were, they wouldn’t fire, even if you were a police officer?

What about skyscrapers made with moving parts, so they could rearrange themselves when they had to, and even open holes in their middles for planes to fly through?”

― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Downtown Dallas, Texas

“Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton… I could just lie here all day, and watch them drift by… If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud formations… What do you think you see, Linus?”

“Well, those clouds up there look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean… That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor… And that group of clouds over there gives me the impression of the stoning of Stephen… I can see the apostle Paul standing there to one side…”

“Uh huh… That’s very good… What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?”

“Well, I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind!”

― Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts

Six Skycrapers

I took the DART train downtown to a Beer Festival and made my train on time. Because of this, I was an hour early and sat down in Klyde Warren to hang out and wait until the festival opened. The sun was near setting and the sky was glowing – the skyscrapers sharp and elegant.

Looking at the collection of crystal towers, my attention was drawn toward six in particular. Thinking about why these meant something to me; I realized I had watched these (and many others) while they were built. I worked in Downtown Dallas in the early eighties – for a couple years in the Kirby Building (now converted into condominiums) and for a couple more in the historic Dallas Cotton Exchange (I loved that building – unfortunately, it was dynamited in 1994 to make room for a parking garage for the 1st Baptist Church).

The early eighties were a time of frantic building in Texas, especially in downtown Dallas. The giant construction crane was considered the state bird. This all came to a spectacular stop in the Savings and Loan crash of the late eighties – but at the time nobody could see that disaster coming.

I was young and a recent immigrant to the big city and was absolutely fascinated with watching the towers going up. In those pre-internet days detailed news was unavailable to the unwashed masses – so the construction was always a surprise to me. Since it would take, say, two years or more to build these it was like a slow-motion reveal, a mystery unveiled piece by piece, day by day.

A block would be cleared and then a gigantic hole slowly carved deep down into the chalky bedrock. Then the steel, concrete, or combination skeleton would rise, floor by floor, emerging from the scurrying crowds of hard-hatted workers like a living thing.

Finally, the skin would be hung and, only then, would the real shape and color of the building revealed. It was never really what it looked like while it as going up – the architects played with shapes and forms, adding extra corners and geometric sleights of hand. The final form was always a gigantic pleasant surprise.

Those were exciting, innocent days. Now, looking at the buildings bring back those memories. I can see, in my imagination, beyond the glass and stone cladding to the hidden skeleton of these skyscrapers, remember when the supporting framework was fresh and exposed.

Three skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Three skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

The three towers to the east

The Chase Tower
2200 Ross – 1987
– I recently took photos of a helicopter making a delivery here.

People call this one the building with a hole in it. On the 40th floor is a skylobby that offers good views of the Uptown area of the city – I haven’t visited this, but would like to. I watched it get started but was working out in Garland before it was finished. The skyscraper was designed by SOM and is 738 feet tall with 55 stories, making it the 4th tallest building in Dallas.

San Jacinto Tower
2121 San Jacinto – 1982

This is the tan triple building in the center. I watched this one go up in detail. While it was being built it was not obvious that it would have that unique, triple structure – the effect was made with add-ons at the end. The building is 456 feet tall and is 33 stories, making it the 20th tallest building in Dallas.

Trammell Crow Center
2001 Ross – 1985

This one was really cool to watch. It was very close to where I worked and was clearly visible outside a window near my cube. Although I left downtown before it opened, I did see all the visible construction right in front of my eyes. The skyscraper is Post Modern in styling and is 686 feet tall with 50 stories. The Trammel Crow Center is the 6th tallest building in Dallas and is named after its principal tenant.

Three more skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Three more skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

To the west are three more:

Lincoln Plaza
500 N. Akard – 1984

This triangular building went up on the site of the old YMCA – I watched them implode that building. It has a cool upper-crust restaurant (Dakota’s) in the basement – you go into an elevator sticking up in the sidewalk to get down to it. Lincoln Plaza is 579 feet high with 45 stories, and is the 13th tallest building in Dallas.

These last two flank Thanksgiving Square – one of my favorite spots back in the day. It’s getting a little run-down and forgotten now – but in the early 80’s it was the place to hang out for lunch on a warm spring day.

Energy Plaza
1601 Bryan – 1983

This is another building that I watched with interest – it ended up looking a lot different than I thought. I.M. Pei & Partners designed this 49 story building located on the north side of Thanksgiving Square. On top of the tower is a triangular communications tower that is modeled after the Eiffel Tower — only smaller and three sided. Energy Plaza is the 9th tallest building in Dallas and with a height of 629 feet.

Thanksgiving Tower
1601 Elm – 1982

The rearmost of these three is Thanksgiving Tower. This was was almost finished when I started working in Dallas – I was there when it opened. This 50 story all glass skyscraper faces into Thanksgiving Square. Thanksgiving Tower is 645 feet high and is the 8th tallest building in Dallas. If you look at it you can see the the distinctive reflection of Republic Center Tower – a skyscraper that has been there since 1954 – ancient by Dallas Standards.

New Book of Mountains and Seas

One of the hidden gems down in the Dallas Arts district is the Crow Collection of Asian Art.

I was working in the Cotton Exchange building in downtown Dallas (the Cotton Exchange is gone now – they blew it up a couple years after I left) while they were building the skyscraper tower of the Trammell Crow Building. The construction site was visible from the windows of our office suite. I watched the steel skeleton climbing up and up – watched the workers scrambling over the latticework of girders. I watched the granite and reflective glass being raised and affixed to the building’s outer skin.

There is always a connection with a building that I watched go up. Since I saw it stretched out in time from the inside out – I feel I know all of its secrets. I know the shortcuts the architect made to get the outer shape. I saw the ventilation, plumbing, and elevator shafts carved out of the interior.

At one time the walkway around the base of the building contained an amazing collection of European sculpture and was one of my favorite places. The sculptures have been removed – and there is the promise to replace them with Asian pieces.

Behind the office building, on a floor level below, facing Flora street across from the Nasher Museum is the Crow Collection of Asian Art. Trammell and Margaret Crow have been collecting Asian art since the 1960’s and built the museum under a pavilion in back of the office tower. It is a small but effective museum, and a welcome addition to the other museums and performance venues in the Dallas Arts District – helping the area move towards the tipping point of becoming a well-known destination. In addition to exhibiting pieces from the permanent collection – the Crow Museum has developed a reputation for hosting impressive visiting temporary exhibitions.

Oh, one more thing. Admission to the museum is free.

A free museum is viewed in a different way than one that you have to pay to get in the door. Instead of making a big deal out of it – preparation and anticipation – you tend to simply wander in and take a relaxed view of the wonders within. I like it.

I have a confession to make – this time that I walked in to the museum it wasn’t because I had heard of some revelatory amazing exhibition or even that I felt the need for peaceful contemplation of a thousand years of artistic production.

I had to pee.

There are not a lot of public restrooms in a big city downtown. The homeless tend to take over and destroy any facilities that are open to anyone. So I decided to duck into the Crow Museum to use their restroom. Since I am a person that likes to meet their obligations – even though I should be able to use the bathroom and leave, there have been many times I’ve been to the Crow to see their art and not used the bathroom – I felt obligated to at least take a quick walk through the galleries.

I walked into the big room past the gift shop and found that it had been emptied. There was a bench in the center of the room and three digital projectors were shining on a long wall. The effect was that of a widescreen film being shown in a bare wooden room – very clean and beautiful. One guy was sitting at one end of the bench – I walked over and sat down on the other.

At first the film was showing some credits and bits of poetry while the soundtrack played some electronic music. It was very peaceful, but not much too it and after a few minutes I wondered, “Is this it?” It was an interesting thought – all this space and technology used to simply throw a few words on the wall along some jangling sounds. I began to wonder if it was an elaborate joke.

It wasn’t. I had come in right at the credits at the end. Soon the presentation looped back to the beginning and the real show began.

This was a film by Qiu AnXiong, an artist from Shanghai. The exhibition was called Animated Narratives and consisted of a two-part video installation called New Book of the Mountains and Seas, along with paintings associated with it.

The video started with a hand drawn animation of waves on the sea, then moved to a pastoral landscape. Soon, a farm appeared to grow on the land like an organic thing. The farm quickly grew to a village and then a walled town. Civilization continued to grow in an organic way – with fantastic animals taking the place of oil rigs, pumps, transportation, and warcraft. Everything grew and grew, with many scenes reminiscent of recent events, but warped into a strange surreal organic landscape. The Middle East (or something resembling it) is ravaged by oil production, the terrorists strike in a version of 911 even more surreal than reality, and then the inevitable disaster and destruction obliterated everything.

The film was in black-and-white and appeared to be animated ink drawings. After walking around and looking at some of the paintings, it was clear that it is actually paint on canvas. The artist overpaints as he photographs his work and generates the animation that way.

I really enjoyed the film and its presentation. You really have to see in it in its carefully constructed widescreen format to appreciate the work, but if you can’t make it to the Crow:

Here’s an online version (wait through the ads). I’m not sure how long this will be online.

Here’s another link to a version of the piece.

If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s about three minutes of the film. This section is near the end, and it does not do justice to seeing it live.

I enjoyed it enough to come back a couple days later and take a look at part two. This is another widescreen video set up in the mezzanine two floors higher up in the museum. It’s another animated work, this time concerning mad cow disease, genetic programing, biowaste disposal, environmental catastrophe and man’s eventual fate among the stars.

I couldn’t find the whole thing, but here is a bit of part two.

Don’t be afraid to wander into a museum, more or less unplanned. I should do this more often. I should not be so cheap to be afraid to do this even when I have to pay for it.