CallisonRTKL reimagines Philip Johnson’s Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas with pedestrian improvements

In terms of privately owned public spaces, Thanks-Giving Square in the heart of downtown Dallas is a unique, but literally multi-layered affair.

The “top” layer of the site, inaugurated in 1976, consists of a post-modern, sunken quasi-park-slash spirituality center (a pointedly interreligious one) with a landscaped meditation garden, a spiral white chapel and a bell tower. The obvious center is the so-called Great Fountain, a water feature that drowns out the noise of the city and at the same time fills the room with a peaceful atmosphere. The Thanks-Giving Foundation, the nonprofit that owns and operates the Philip Johnson-designed space, hopes to encourage visitors to pause and “stand together on a common ground, reflect on gratitude, and appreciate the diversity of our community.” About 15 feet below street level, the submerged nature of the cake-shaped, 1.7-acre space is made even more noticeable skyscraper by the fact that it is sandwiched, cloistered, and island-like in the shadow of some of the tallest in the city.

Directly below the square, one level below, is an important hub of the Dallas Pedestrian Network, a largely underground pedestrian system developed by the same French-Canadian urban planner Vincent Ponte who designed Montreal’s famous Underground City. (That particular section of the network belongs to the City of Dallas.) Lower down, 50 feet underground in the lower tier, is the Bullington Truck Terminal, a cavernous space that is used to ease the downtown congestion caused by delivery trucks .

The new Thanks-Giving Square, which is currently somewhat closed at its borders, will be opened to the surrounding streetscape. (Courtesy CallisonRTKL)

The top level of Thanks-Giving Square – that is, the idyllic, inclusive, and introspective public space and its iconic chapel – is currently in the early conceptual stages of a major design update that will help serve a larger city. more diverse and perhaps even a little more grateful than over 40 years ago when it was first opened to the public. (Estimated costs, schedules, and other details have yet to be ironed out as the foundation prepares for an upcoming capital campaign.) Perhaps most importantly, Thanks-Giving Square, which was refurbished and updated for a post-pandemic period, is more seamless with one another merges The city still serves as a place of rest and reflection.

In exploring the possibilities of a redesigned Thanks-Giving square, the foundation partnered with the Dallas-based branch of global architecture firm CallisonRTKL, which has had offices in the Republic Center, one of the aforementioned skyscrapers on Thanks-Giving, for nearly 20 years. Space years. In the spirit of neighborly giving, the company provides its design services free of charge.

As Noel Aveton, vice president of CallisonRTKL, who heads the landscape architecture and urban planning studio of the Dallas office, explained, the company’s relationship with Kyle Ogden, the foundation’s president and CEO, began not with talks about a completely remodeled construction site, but rather conversations about more fundamental corrections “to increase the attractiveness of the curb” on the square.

“It was really easy,” said Aveton AN of these initial improvements. “It was through landscape, plantings, some other basic stuff. And we just had a really good relationship that started with that – we kind of became his [Ogden’s] Go-to architecture, planning and landscape team. “

Representation of a public space in downtown DallasIn addition to merging Thanks Giving Square with the urban landscape, many of the proposed changes revolve around improved access for visitors of all abilities. (Courtesy CallisonRTKL)

Since 2018, when Ogden and the CallisonRTKL team first discussed fundamental improvements (and how to implement them) in Thanks-Giving Square, the scope of what is possible has evolved from small changes here and there to a large proposed transformation. “Then came a more serious conversation that Ogden and his board had about ‘rejuvenation’. And it was clearly a lot bigger than adding ground cover or power washing walls, ”Aveton said. “From then on, the conversations became more intense and, to be honest, more interesting – and what we culminated in those conversations was a Charette.”

Possible improvements that arose from the one-day design charette that took place earlier this year and was organized by the senior staff at CallisonRTKL, Michael Friebele (also an AN employee) and Collin Koonce were: A small multi-purpose pavilion, the one New connection to the underground pedestrian tunnels and ADA compliant upgrades including a rework of a steel rail bridge leading to the chapel and a new glass-clad elevator. Most dramatically, the plan is for Thanks-Giving Square to expand outside its walls, turning adjacent former traffic lanes into a lively pedestrian street resembling a linear park with trees, seating, and active programming, including space for pop-up Retail and restaurants storefronts. “It’s about the possibility of the street scene becoming an extension of Thanks-Giving Square’s mission,” said Koonce.

Aerial view of a pie-shaped park in downtown DallasPie from Heaven: An aerial view of the redesigned and expanded triangular grounds of Thanks-Giving Square. (Courtesy CallisonRTKL)

The plan also includes a view of Pacific Avenue, which Friebele refers to as the “hood,” which hides the entrance to the tunnel system and gets you a little bit into the square but doesn’t necessarily disrupt the pedestrian or contemplative experience once you are Within.”

As Friebele explained, the significant growth that has taken over downtown Dallas over the past decade has led to bigger considerations, such as Thanks-Giving Square, which was originally intended to be some sort of “different view of Rockefeller Center.” , which focuses on unifying the city The years following the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas can best be used. (And as nearby Klyde Warren Park demonstrates, multi-faceted green spaces flourish and expand in downtown Dallas.)

“That idea of ​​not having enough downtown parks also meant that places that were public spaces, like Thanks-Giving Square, were interpreted in a way that residents felt their needs were right,” Friebele said. “Now that all of these pieces are online, the real thing is to get back to focus on the intentions of the place.”

a spiral chapel ceiling with stained glassInside view of the stained glass of the Thanksgiving Chapel, a structure inspired by the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. (Ryan Chamberlain / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

“A place that was built for contemplation just doesn’t seem to make sense in its current form,” Friebele added. “It actually has to be achieved. And that is exactly what the Foundation really sees as an opportunity in this plan: How do you maintain the aspect of contemplation, but how do you start to further integrate this matter into the actual action of the Thanksgiving Festival in the city? “

Much of the Charette, as pointed out by Koonce, has been spent identifying Thanks-Giving Square and determining whether or not it fits into a contemporary definition of a park – that is, “an active programming place like you maybe see is being built today, ”he said. And the consensus was that the thank you place, as originally intended, does not fit into that definition. “And that is exactly what the foundation wants now – to be somehow different and unique and also to be the place of contemplation that has a higher purpose than a park,” added Koonce.

As previously mentioned, the Thanksgiving Square redesign is in the early conceptual stages and the plan outlined by the CallisonRTKL team is likely to change as more feedback and budget considerations come in later. Friebele described the Charette process as an “opportunity for the foundation to get enthusiastic about the project. It’s an opportunity for them to reveal the next step, where they really want to go. “

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