How Architecture Critic David Dillon Shaped Dallas’ Development

In 1980, writer David Dillon asked the question in a comment published in Dallas magazine: “Why is the architecture in Dallas so bad?”

At the time, Dallas was at the height of a building boom, but in Dillon’s eyes the new building in the city didn’t have the best public interest. The article kicked off Dillon’s career as a critic of Dallas architecture for the Dallas Morning News, shaping the city’s conversation about itself and thereby reshaping its landscape.

Eleven years after Dillon’s death, a new book brings together some of his most important works. The collection, entitled “The Open Ended City”, is curated and edited by Kathryn Holliday. She is the director of the David Dillon Center for Texas Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Holliday says Dillon didn’t write much about architecture prior to the release of his infamous play, but he was able to grab people’s attention by comparing Dallas to other prominent cities like Houston or Atlanta.

“The time it took him to think about what other cities were doing and what Dallas could learn from them … really made this article a test of time,” says Holliday.

Dillon blamed the poor architecture of Dallas in part on developers like Ray Nasher, who were motivated more by their paperback than by public interest. Finally, Dillon praised Nasher for shifting his focus from private shopping malls to public spaces like the Nasher Sculpture Center.

“The role of the critic, he saw it, was to confront the people who had the money and the power to make decisions and ask them to do a better job,” says Holliday.

Dillon wrote over 1,000 articles in his 25-year career. When Holliday scoured his work to put the book together, she noticed that the questions Dillon asked are still resonating in the current discussions about Dallas’s growth.

“I think one of the things that becomes very clear is how long it takes to make decisions that have a big impact on the city,” says Holliday.

According to Holliday, Dillon’s influence is particularly evident in discussions between developers, policymakers, and citizens about the Dallas arts district and the development of the Trinity River.

“The questions he asked about the preservation of history and how we treat our history are all the same questions that are still on the table,” says Holliday.

Although his writing helped change the minds of some developers, Holliday says Dillon didn’t try to save Dallas architecture on his own. Instead, he hoped to enable citizens to participate in the decisions of their cities.

“Its real goal is to educate everyone out there, all citizens, about the choices citizens have – how they can be involved in a process,” says Holliday.

Written by Sara Schleede.

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