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AT&T Performing Arts Center: Sammons Park

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Sequesters 18,000 lbs of CO2 annually in 66 newly-planted trees, equivalent to driving 21,500 miles in a single passenger vehicle. These trees also intercept 81,300 gallons of rainwater in their canopies.
  • Reduces surface temperatures under the brise soleil by an average of 17°F for the concrete seating areas. During the spring/summer season, 67% of the entire site is shaded, compared to 28% pre-development.

Social

  • Served as the entry courtyard for an estimated 408,000 annual AT&T Performing Arts Center patrons. The park also hosts free and ticketed outdoor concerts, free weekly exercise classes, and arts district-wide events.
  • Encourages people to enter the park and enjoy the amenities. Of the 938 people observed entering the park, the average length of stay was 10 minutes. 22% of groups sat down in the park, staying for an average of 18 minutes. 14% walked or played in the water skin pool.
  • Promotes art and artistic activities for 95% of 90 survey respondents, primarily through performing arts, water features, garden design, and sculptures.
  • Improves quality of life for 92% of the survey respondents by providing a place to be outdoors, bring visitors and be with friends. Also improves the perception of the area.
  • Improves perception of the city, according to 89% of survey respondents (53% strongly agree).

Economic

  • Contributed to an 85% increase in the total market value of the AT&T Performing Arts Center between 2004 and 2013. Additionally, the total market value for adjacent parcels increased by 79% during this timeframe.
  • Helped stimulate the start or completion of four major real estate developments in the Dallas Arts District, which added a total of 392 residential units, 500,000 sf of office space, and 20,000 sf of retail space.
  • Generated $1,040,400 in revenue and attracted an estimated 22,000 visitors during the 2013 fiscal year through ticketed events and private rentals of the park’s Annette Strauss Square outdoor performance venue.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    SmithGroupJJR

  • Project Type

    Courtyard/Plaza
    Streetscape

  • Former Land Use

    Park/Open Space

  • Location

    2403 Flora Street
    Dallas, Texas 75201

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    10 acres

  • Budget

    $33.5 million

  • Completion Date

    2009

The Elaine D. and Charles A. Sammons Park at the AT&T Performing Arts Center is a public space in the burgeoning Dallas Arts District. The design is an extension of the district’s broader mission to provide visitors with access to outdoor amenities that open opportunities to experience art, music, history and culture. Formerly the site of a parking lot, the 10-acre park was designed in conjunction with the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theatre to act as an entry plaza and outdoor performance space while connecting them to a neighboring high school and symphony center, serving as a spatial anchor for the district. The park spans across two sides of Flora Street and comprises a plaza with a reflecting pool, a side courtyard and green space with café-style seating, a vegetated entry ramp to the Wyly, an enhanced streetscape, and an outdoor performance stage with a sunken lawn. In order to stimulate pedestrian activity and help mitigate the harsh Texas climate, essential amenities include shade and water features, streetscape improvements with native trees, native and naturalized plantings, artwork, and a beverage kiosk. An inviting reflecting pool takes advantage of the dappled shade from the brise soliel extending from the Winspear. The design and placement of these amenities within a simple green space complements the architecture of the performance halls rather than compete with it. Overall, the landscape serves to connect at a district level and stimulate at a personal level.

  • The park design takes advantage of the 156,400 sf brise soleil that extends from the Winspear Opera House and shades approximately 173,700 sf of the park during the spring and summer seasons, contributing to a more comfortable environment during the extreme heat of Texas summers.
  • Approximately 102,000 sf of the park (25% of the entire park) was built as a green roof over an underground parking garage.
  • Discrete one-inch-wide slot drains integrated into the paving efficiently capture stormwater from intense, short rain events typical of North Texas and flow to a large below-grade stormwater detention basin. Includes a lift station for pumping out stormwater.
  • The park primarily uses a native plant pallette, which includes 8 varieties of swaying ornamental grasses, 8 species of perennial wildflowers, and 4 species of trees (all of them native or adapted).
  • A 0.5-inch water skin pool invites visitors to splash around in its cooling waters. The pool also functions as a memorial plaque featuring the names of the donors who contributed to the design and construction of the center.
  • An elegant ramp switchbacks among planters filled with grasses and wildflowers, providing ADA access to the Wyly Theater entrance, which is located 20 ft below the ground level, down a 13% slope.
  • 1,150 linear ft of streetscape enhancements include granite cobble pavers, 28 street trees, and benches, which connect the park across Flora Street and contribute to a more pedestrian-friendly district.
  • Primary seating options include 420 movable chairs with 62 café-style tables and 16 benches that can seat up to 130 people. The approximately 650 linear ft of secondary seating options include seat walls and seat stairs that can accommodate some 240 people.
  • The park includes a 128,000-sf outdoor performance venue called Annette Strauss Square, which can seat up to 1,800 visitors for performances and is available for free and ticketed public events, as well as private rentals.

Challenge

The two primary venues, the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theatre, are situated across from each other on Flora Street. Led by two different Pritzker Prize-winning architectural teams, each building had strikingly different programmatic requirements and architectural design responses. The Winspear Opera House’s large building footprint and brise soleil suggested a flat plinth as a base. The Wyly Theatre’s small footprint and vertical proportion pushed the entrance to the lower level, which is 20-feet below the ground level, requiring a large sloped opening. To complicate matters further at the Wyly, this 13% sloped opening would require both universal access and valet parking at the door. A further challenge was to determine a regionally appropriate plant palette to balance aesthetically with the post-modern architecture of the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Solution

Creating a plinth for the base of the Winspear Opera House was complicated due to the sloping Flora Street frontage. This was resolved by creating broad steps across the Flora Street frontage which met the existing grade on one end and transitioned to a maximum of 6 steps on the other. The ramp in front of the Wyly was more challenging. First, a series of 5% sloped ramps was arranged in a switchback pattern down the middle of the 13% sloped entryway to create an ADA accessible path to the building entrance. Planters were built in between the switchbacks to create the ADA required landings and to absorb the slope changes. The balance of the entryway space remains at 13% for those more able to traverse the slope and for valet parking. To complement the controlled and pristine aesthetic of the architecture, planting beds in bold rectangular and square shapes were filled with a sophisticated native and naturalized plant palette of dynamic textures, colors and scales of flora.

  • It was necessary to complete over $350 million in construction work on a 10-acre site all with the same deadline in an orderly and safe manner. To accomplish this, the client established five construction packages with different teams for each: (1) Winspear Opera House, (2) Wyly Theater, (3) Winspear Underground Garage, (4) Strauss Square and (5) Flora Street. The five construction packages were then assigned to two contractors to construct. This required an intense amount of coordination between teams, which would be possible if all teams were at the same point in the documentation process. This was not always the case, so re-design became part of the process due to long-lead items ordered, construction in-place, or field adjustments.
  • The grand opening was expected to be just that – a grand celebration with great artists and publicity for Dallas. As a result, the deadline was unforgiving and the schedule became the driver as the deadline grew closer. This resulted in hard compromises between the construction documentation and the schedule. The consequences of some of these decisions appeared a year or more after construction was complete.
  • Flexibility and adaptability of design throughout the project timeline can be key to successful design outcomes. This was particularly true of the water feature design. Due to budgetary concerns later in the project, what began as a water skin with a field of programmable jets turned into a water skin without jets but sleeving for the future addition, and finally it became just a water skin. The original water feature design would have cost $4.9 million and the ultimate design cost $1.5 million. Considering the cost savings, the water skin solution may have been considered as a viable alternative from the beginning. In a metropolitan area with many urban fountains with programmable jets, the water skin feature is different and remarkable for its elegant simplicity and for the more contemplative experience it offers. The water skin also accommodates a wider range of visitor engagement, programming (Christmas tree location), and introduced a respectful location to recognize key donors on plaques within the calm waters.
  • The client felt very strongly that valet access should be provided to the front door of the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theater. Although more easily accommodated on the Winspear plinth, it was a challenge and safety concern to provide on the Wyly ramp because of its relatively steep slope. In a turn of events, once the venues were operating, no valet company would provide service to the front doors of either venue. In the end, what the client desired and the landscape architect designed was not utilized. However, because the drive had been conceived as a curbless shared-space, the park was left not with an empty space for automobiles running through it, but rather a broad walkway that now accommodates both pedestrians and moveable café-style tables and chairs. In the end, it made for a better pedestrian experience.

Granite Cobble Pavers: Coldspring Granite 
Slot Drains: Aco Drain
Bollards: Marshalls
Lighting: Designplan Lighting, Inc. 
Benches: Landscape Forms
Café Tables and Chairs: Foster & Partners
Water Feature: Greenscape Pump Services 

Project Team

Client: Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation
Current Management: AT&T Performing Arts Center
Landscape Architect: SmithGroupJJR, Michel Desvigne Paysagiste
Landscape Architect of Record: SmithGroupJJR
Site Lighting Designer: Chicago Tillotson Design Associates
Graphic Design: 2x4 
Water Feature Design: WET 
Civil Engineer: Lopez Garcia Group (now URS)  
Site Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti 
Site MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing): CHPA (now BURY) 
Irrigation: Irritech 
Horticulturist Contractor: Chip Clint 
WOH Site: Linbeck Group,  
Wyly Site: McCarthy Building Companies
Annette Strauss Square: Turner Construction Company

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect led a diverse team of subconsultants, including a French landscape architect, civil and structural engineers, lighting designers, fountain designers, and signage consultants. This team designed all site elements 5 ft outside of the buildings on all five interdependent construction projects. The Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theatre each had their separate international architect-led teams, each requiring extensive collaboration and coordination with the landscape architect. The landscape architect coordinated required city approvals and permits for the exterior spaces, including Flora Street.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Taner R. Ozdil, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Arlington
Research Fellow: James Richards, FASLA, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Founding Principal, Townscape Inc.
Research Assistant: Dylan Stewart, MLA 
Research Assistant: Justin Earl, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington 
Research Assistant: Ryan Brown, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington 
Volunteer: Natalia Chuprakova, MLA Candidate, University of Texas at Arlington 
Firm Liaison: Patrick Brawley, SmithGroupJJR
August 2014

Topics

Temperature & urban heat island, Carbon sequestration & avoidance, Recreational & social value, Health & well-being, Other social, Property values, Economic development, Other economic, Green roof, Native Plants, Shade structure, Placemaking, Revitalization

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