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Honoring Tradition, Embracing Change: A&D Experts On Navigating DFW's Era Of Rapid Growth

As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation, Dallas-Fort Worth is on the precipice of transformation. Unlike the Bostons and New York Citys of the world, DFW’s identity is still evolving, which puts architects and designers in a unique position to shape how the rest of the world sees the region.

TBG Partners' Mark Meyer, Merriman Anderson Architects' Milton Anderson, HOK's Jessica Collins, 5G Studio Collaborative's Yen Ong, OmniPlan's Mikhail Moya and Hill & Wilkinson's Craig Wedeman

Just how A&D professionals can usher DFW into its next era of growth was discussed extensively at a May 19 Bisnow event.

Demographers project DFW will reach 10 million people sometime in the decade, surpassing Chicago to become America’s third-largest metro area, according to City Journal. Perkins&Will Design Director Ron Stelmarski described Dallas as a laboratory, or a place where design professionals have the elbow room to be innovative.

“If there is an aligned sense of risk-taking, a sense of invention while still making it purposeful, we can allow pragmatism to interact with vision, and that’s what really endures,” he said.

Dallas has become notorious over the years for valuing newness over history, a reputation that emphasizes the importance of maintaining authenticity in a period of rapid growth. Ensuring that new or updated buildings still fit into the overall context of the city is something architects should pay careful attention to, GFF Architects President Evan Beattie said.

“It’s really important for us to not tear it all down,” he said. “There are buildings in Dallas that are worth saving. Preservation and honoring our history is really important. Adaptive reuse is going to play a really important role as we densify.”

Merriman Anderson Architects is on the front lines of historic preservation in DFW, having been at the helm of several noteworthy adaptive reuse projects, including The National and The Statler. Milton Anderson, president of the firm, said his team prioritizes projects where there is a deep admiration and respect for the existing building, both on the side of the development team and the design team.

“[Developers] buy these buildings because they love them — there's a passion there, and there's a story there,” he said. “They want to embrace it, they want to develop it, they want to understand how to respect it, and then just bring it back to life.”

Respecting history while also embracing change and diversity is a delicate balance, and sometimes it can be good to confront the status quo, 5G Studio Collaborative partner and co-founder Yen Ong said. As an Indonesian immigrant, Ong said he sometimes looks at conformity rules in zoning and wonders how people like himself fit into the overall context of America. Through architecture, he said, he seeks to challenge context.

Steelcase's Randy Malone, GFF Architects' Evan Beattie, Gensler's Kirsten Cessna, American Institute of Steel Construction's Brian Ward, Perkins&Will's Ron Stelmarski and HKS' Dan Noble

“It’s a very personal struggle to me, and I bring that out architecturally,” he said. “Not in an effort to offend, but I feel like it is possible to look at a context and add to it, refresh it, rethink it, and try to propel something in a different direction for the future.”

The population of the Metroplex is expected to outpace that of the U.S. by 250% over the next five to seven years. This growth is adding to the region’s diversity, which provides an opportunity for architects to use the built environment to respond to these changes, OmniPlan principal and Director of Design Mikhail Moya said.

“We are going to get more and more clients who think differently from the typical Dallas client,” he said. “They’re going to be younger, they’re going to look different, they’re going to think different. So how do we make sure their building expresses themselves but still fits into the fabric of the city?”

This era of growth should also compel architects and designers to be intentional about equity and inclusivity, said Jessica Collins, senior project interior designer at HOK. Buildings should be designed for more than just one person, and architects should be thinking about those who have been deprived of the built environment, such as those experiencing homelessness.

“If it fits one, it fits none,” she said. “It’s about putting people first, and building a city that we are proud of and want to pass down to future generations.”