As promised here is the third and final proposal from HKS Design Fellowship VI dubbed the “HUB”. Rather than just building on top of the existing buildings or erecting new ones between them, what if you could alter the landscape so that it became not just buildings but smaller more intimate spaces spread throughout Fair Park? That’s the approach team the “HUB” took; team members include Erick Katzenstein (Washington D.C. Office – Healthcare), Ramon Cavazos (Dallas Office – Construction Services), Todd Vin (Atlanta Office – Healthcare), and Yan Lu (Student, Texas A&M University – Architecture). Here’s what the team had to say:
Fair Park holds many fond memories for people across North Texas and beyond. The Texas State Fair brings to mind college football, pig races, bizarre fried food and throngs of people. On the contrary on a warm, fall afternoon Fair Park was nearly desolate save the few workers dismantling the remnants of the State Fair signage and a few visitors outside the Museum of Nature and Science. Despite its status as one of the signature parks in the city of Dallas, the viability of Fair Park remains uncertain due to the lack of activity and the perception that it is either only a destination for special events or that as a park it is unwelcoming or unsafe because of the location in South Dallas. Real or imagined these perceptions keep Fair Park from realizing its potential and foster an occasional use mindset only. We argue that in order to activate Fair Park and attract the suburban visitor outside of major events, the site must engage the social and cultural groups in the immediate environs thereby not only creating a group of habitual visitors but also a new hub of activity that is an integral part of the greater Dallas area.
The ultimate goal is to foster two simultaneous types of visits to the park, the occasional and the habitual, but first we must address the dichotomy in the demographics between these potential visitors. The primary occasional user is one that is commuting from a neighboring city or suburb while the more habitual visitor is likely to be from the direct vicinity. Proximity to the park aside, the neighborhoods in the area are among the lowest average income per household in the city of Dallas and beyond. Simply put Fair Park must rely more heavily on the occasional visitor with a higher disposable income to generate revenue while it is only the habitual visitor that can foster the culture and vibrancy needed to breathe new life into the park. It is more than striking a balance between these two types of visitors; there must exist a symbiosis wherein neither can sustain the park alone and both must work together. Towards that end a change is necessary in both programming and infrastructure so that Fair Park is a setting where this exchange can occur.
One of the largest obstacles facing Fair Park is its size, isolation and organization (or lack thereof). To the occasional visitor it is a destination point, an island within an ocean of the uneventful. To the local resident it is a barrier one must navigate around to reach the other side. We posed ourselves the question: how does one make Fair Park a destination park that is a more integrated part of the community as well as a thoroughfare for the people who occupy the area on a daily basis? The answer lies in a hub and spoke model – breaking down the vast real estate of the park into a network of nodes and axes that is then woven into the larger urban fabric. This strategy requires first the identification and strengthening of the existing system of nodes, otherwise known as entrances and places of interest, as well as axes, or major pathways.
In order to assess the best opportunities for architectural interventions, a master plan was developed based on the strengths of the current zoning as well as the potential for a more cohesive Fair Park. Two major alterations to the overall site plan begin to set up the direction of subsequent changes: first, redeveloping the parking lots to the south and east of the park thereby redefining the edge of the park and second, reorganizing the northeast quadrant of the park itself. The larger master plan changes set up the opportunity to use an architectural language to accentuate the nodes, paths and central hub of the park network. Each entry is akin to the end of a spoke radiating from the Cotton Bowl connected by a system of pathways; however, there is no hierarchy, organization or clear way of moving people in, through or around the park. Our proposal is meant to provide this organization by reducing the number of and clearly identifying the entrances, renovating and adding human scale to the primary pathways between the entrances, and creating a new central focal point in the park to house a Visitor Center as well as a Community Center. To better understand the scope of these changes would be to describe how one might experience a visit to the new park.
The visitor arrives at an entry gate that is marked and identifies with the zone of the park that is beyond (i.e. Museum Entry, Garden Entry, etc.). From the entry and extending into the park the primary pathways are treated in the same materials and flanked by landscape that rises and falls not only creating visual interest but also adding a sense of scale and layers. Along the path there are minor variations in treatment of the boundary of the path versus landscape that provide opportunities to sit, step up to a different level or secondary path, and even to gather –moments of intimacy and human scale among the monumental architecture of the park. As the paths continue they converge south of the Cotton Bowl and at that crossing the landscape raises up to house a building bisected by the paths that is the home to the Visitor Center and Community Center. Here the paths of the occasional and habitual visitor cross and converge before being dispersed back into the park. Ultimately the purpose of the architecture is to highlight the nodes – the entries and crossing of paths, reinforce the axes or paths and ultimately define a new central hub so that the park becomes familiar, navigable and welcoming. The infrastructure provides the opportunity to have expanded programming and functionality all working in unison to rebrand and re-envision Fair Park for future generations – a new hub of activity for local and suburban visitors alike.