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Dallas builds bridges to arts & architecture

The unique Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge has become source Dallas pride since opening March.

SPECIAL SPAN The unique Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge has become a source of Dallas pride since opening in March.

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Updated: June 14, 2012 8:11AM

DALLAS — World-class cities have erected world-class bridges: San Francisco has its Golden Gate, and New York City boasts at least five landmarks, including the Brooklyn and Queensboro. Now Dallas has joined the club with its Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Since its unveiling in March, the 1,870-foot, six-lane, 58-cable bridge crossing the Trinity River has become an emblem of civic pride, an image that’s as distinctively Dallas as the Mobil Oil pegasus, J.R. Ewing’s Stetson or the Cowboys’ Lone Star logo. A public-private $182-million enterprise undertaken as part of the massive Trinity River Project, it links the bustle of downtown Dallas, including its burgeoning Arts District, with the city’s economically deprived west side.

Calatrava’s span also serves as a symbol of unity. At an opening gala, Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings captured this sentiment: “This is your bridge, this is our new Dallas,” as he pointed to the 400-foot arch above. “The Trinity River is the reason this city was founded; we are reclaiming this river and this space.”

Named after the eldest daughter of oil tycoon H.L Hunt Jr., the Hunt Hill Bridge is one of three that Calatrava had planned for the Trinity (a pedestrian bridge is in the works but the third was canceled). Known to Midwesterners for his aborted Chicago Spire and the 2001 addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, Calatrava has specialized in public works, including more than 50 bridges worldwide.

Referring to his hometown during an opening-night speech, he said, “Val­­encia is very far away, but here I feel at home.” Given his bridge tally, he added, “I have never seen such a deep and enormously uplifting moment” during an opening ceremony. “Bridges are the links ... that overcome obstacles.”

The Hunt Hill Bridge leads to the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, which bisects the city’s downtown by joining Interstates 35E and 345. The freeway forms the western boundary of the 19-block Arts District, home to many of the city’s cultural institutions. Since the mid-’80s, a series of buildings by star architects has gone up in this area now regarded as the nation’s largest cultural corridor. During a recent visit, I joined a group of journalists on a whirlwind tour of these Arts District pillars:

Dallas Museum of Art (1984): Built by Edward Larrabee Barnes, it features more than 24,000 works from ancient to modern.

Meyerson Concert Hall (1989): Pritzker Prize-winner I.M. Pei’s first concert hall and home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, whose music director, Jaap van Zweden, was named Musical America’s 2012 Conductor of the Year. (He appears July 7 at Ravinia.)

Nasher Sculpture Center (2003): Designed by Renzo Piano, another Pritzker winner, the museum and its garden feature contemporary works from the collection of mall magnate Ray Nasher. The 80,000-square-foot museum relies almost entirely on natural light to illuminate its artworks.

Winspear Opera House (2009): Part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, the 2,220-seat acoustic marvel designed by Sir Norman Foster hosts the Dallas Opera and touring productions.

Wyly Theater (2009): The 12-story “corrugated-style” steel box by Pritzker honoree Rem Koolhaus and Joshua Price-Ramus houses several theater and dance companies. The Wyly also is one of the four components of ATTPAC. (Set to open this fall is another component, the City Performance Hall, a 750-seat theater designed by Leigh Breslau of Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.)

Just west of the Arts District but nestled along the Woodall Rodgers is the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, scheduled to open in early 2013. In a city of Pritzker-caliber architecture, it promises to offer the most audacious design of all. The five-story, 180,000-square-foot building, by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, consists of a large cube floating over a landscaped roof. A 54-foot escalator moves up a glass tube along the building’s exterior. The campus sits on a 4.7-acre site landscaped with indigenous grasses and plants that range from east to west Texas and will be planted in a geographical progression.

Mayne, yet another Pritzker laureate, designed the museum as a “living example of engineering, sustainability and technology at work.” Among its many green features is a water-collection system that will capture rainwater to supply all the museum’s water (save for drinking/eating uses).

The museum’s backers raised the building’s $185-million cost more than a year ahead of the 2013 opening, spurred by a $50 million gift from Ross Perot’s children.

Public and private funders have raised another $110 million to construct what looks to be the crowning element of the Arts District: the Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2-acre green space built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway. With a stage, restaurant, walking paths, children’s play areas and gardens, it will serve as a front lawn to the Arts District and a central oasis for the entire city. There’s much hope that when this urban haven, named after the son of Kelcy Warren, CEO of the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, opens this fall, it will do for Dallas what Millennium Park has achieved in Chicago. “The Woodall Rodgers was like a medieval wall in the middle of the city,” said Greg Brown, program director of the Dallas Center for Architecture. “Before the park deck went up, this area was noisy, hostile, not pedestrian-friendly. Already, it has calmed traffic and improved the quality of life here.”

Dallas has always prided itself on thinking big. The Arts District, the Hunt Hill Bridge and soon the Perot Museum and the Klyde Warren Park prove anew that there’s a lot to see in the Big D.

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