Big D Architecture - See it All in Dallas, Texas

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Texas School Book Depository at Dealey Plaza

Seven story brick warehouse, site of JFK assassination in 1963 Dallas, Texas
Texas School Book Depository warehouse now JFK Assassination Museum, Dallas, Texas. Photo by Barry Winiker via Getty Images

"Big D, little a, double l, a, s - And that spells Dallas" is the Frank Loesser refrain you may know from the 1956 musical, The Most Happy Fella. Today, many Americans associate Dallas with the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Dealey Plaza is the 19th century birthplace of Dallas, Texas. Tragically, the area has become famous for the 20th century killing of an American president. Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired his gun from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building. The sixth floor now serves as a museum dedicated to the history of President Kennedy's assassination.

About the Texas School Book Depository:

Location: 411 Elm Street, Dallas
Built: 1901-1903
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Height: 7 floors; 100 feet by 100 feet; 80,000 square feet
Current Use: Dallas County Administration Building and The Sixth Floor Museum


"The infamous depository is a surprisingly handsome structure in a simplified Romanesque style, with giant pilasters and heavy brick arches."—Witold Rybczynski

Learn More:

  • JFK Assassination photo gallery of significant locations of that day
  • History of Dealey Plaza
  • Walking Tour of the West End Historic District of Dallas

Sources: Matthew Hayes Nall, "TEXAS SCHOOL BOOK DEPOSITORY," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed October 31, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association; The Interpreter: The JFK memorial and the woes of "interpretive centers" by Witold Rybczynski,, February 15, 2006 [accessed October 31, 2013]

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JFK Memorial by Philip Johnson

Two large white concrete tombs near the site of JFK assassination
John F. Kennedy Memorial by Philip Johnson, Dallas, Texas, 1970. See an interior view. Photo by Matthew Rutledge from Austin, TX [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Years before Pritzker Laureate Philip Johnson helped design Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, he tackled this presidential memorial, still an object of controversy.

About the JFK Memorial:

Location: one block from Dealey Plaza, behind the Old Red Courthouse
Dedication: June 24, 1970
Designer: Architect Philip Johnson
Size: 50 foot square, roofless, 30 feet high
Construction Material: 72 white, precast concrete columns 29 inches above ground and 8 column "legs"
Design Concept: A cenotaph or open tomb. Inside the structure is a low, granite rectangle. Carved into the side of the grave-like stone is the name John Fitzgerald Kennedy in gold.


"The memorial by Philip Johnson, for its part, also symbolizes the city's deep ambivalence about commemorating the assassination. A spare cenotaph, or open tomb, designed to be built in marble, it was instead cast in cheaper concrete. And its location east of the assassination site suggested an effort to tuck the history of that day away."—Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic, October 25, 2013, Dealey Plaza: A place Dallas has long tried to avoid and forget

"It is all, sad to say, poorly done. Painted precast concrete is hardly a noble material, and the blank surfaces are relieved by rows of roundels that make the walls look like mammoth Lego blocks....Kennedy was not a notable patron of architecture, but he deserved better than this."—Witold Rybczynski, February 15, 2006, The Interpreter,

Source: History of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza [accessed October 31, 2013]

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Bank of America Plaza

Tallest skyscraper in Dallas, Texas, the Bank of America
Tallest skyscraper in Dallas, Texas, Bank of America Plaza. Photo by User Drumguy8800 on en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Visitors can't miss this skyscraper—at night the tallest building in Dallas, Texas illuminates the skyline with its green light outline.

About Bank of America Plaza:

Date Opened: 1985
Height: 921 feet; 72 floors
Building Materials: steel structure with blue glass curtain wall

Source: Bank of America Plaza, Emporis [accessed October 31, 2013]

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Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by Calatrava

Santiago Calatrava bridge, white, tall loop like the Gateway Arch, wire stringed like a lute
Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, over the Trinity River. Photo ©Stewart Cohen via Getty Images

Like some of Dallas' skyscrapers, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge over the Trinity River is illuminated with hundreds of lights. Dallas' postcard-ready signature bridge is named after the daughter of oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, Jr.

About the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge:

Type of Bridge: Cable-stayed
Architect: Spanish-born Santiago Calatrava
Date Opened: March 2012
Height: 400 feet (4 stories), 25 steel segments in arch
Cables: 58 (4 to 8 inches diameter)
Steps to the Top of the Arch: 1,020
Length: .366 miles; 1,870 feet
Width: 120 feet (six traffic lanes)
Building Material: Prefabricated concrete and Italian steel (11,643,674 pounds of structural steel)

Source: mhh bridge, The Trinity Trust [accessed October 31, 2013]

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Dallas City Hall designed by I.M. Pei

Concrete boat-like building, massive brutulist piers support an angled facade.
The Dallas, Texas City Hall designed by I.M. Pei. Photo ©Thorney Lieberman via Getty Images

Described by the architect as "boldly horizontal," the city's center for government becomes a "balanced dialogue with Dallas's skyscrapers."

About Dallas City Hall:

Architects: I. M. Pei and Theodore J. Musho
Date Opened: 1977
Size: 113 feet high; 560 feet long; 192 foot top width
Building Materials: concrete
Shape: "34° angle, each floor 9'-6" wider than the one below"
Style: Brutalism
Awards: American Consulting Engineers Council 1979 Excellence Award

Source: Dallas City Hall, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP [accessed October 31, 2013]

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Art Deco at Fair Park

Massive art deco metal sculpture, nude woman, hair flowing backwards, near the Centennial Building
Reproduction of the Art Deco Contralto Sculpture in Fair Park, Centennial Building in background. Photo © Jeremy Woodhouse via Getty Images

The annual Texas State Fair, which claims to have the largest ferris wheel in the Western hemisphere, takes place in a land of art deco—Fair Park in Dallas, site of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. When Texas commemorated 100 years of independence from Mexico, they celebrated in a big way by putting on a world's fair.

The Exposition's architect, George Dahl, built upon the ideas of the City Beautiful movement and previous world fairs in Philadelphia (1876) and Chicago (1893). The 277-acre Dallas exhibition area centered around the 1930 Cotton Bowl football stadium on the outskirts of town. Art deco design and concrete block building materials were the tools of the time. Dahl's Esplanade became the site's "architectural focal point."

Dahl commissioned a young sculptor, Lawrence Tenney Stevens (1896-1972), to create the statuary for the Esplanade. The statue shown here, Contralto, is a David Newton reproduction of the original 1936 art deco piece. Many of the original art deco buildings are still standing and being used every year at the Texas State Fair.

Today, Fair Park claims to be "the only intact and unaltered pre-1950s world fair site remaining in the United States – with an extraordinary collection of 1930s art and architecture."

Source: About Fair Park, Architecture of Fair Park, and Esplanade walking tour, Friends of Fair Park at [accessed November 5, 2013]

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Kalita Humphreys Theater, Frank Lloyd Wright

Kalita Humphreys Theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1959, Dalas, Texas
Kalita Humphreys Theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1959. Photo ©Band!to on, Creative Commons NonCommercial (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This Dallas, Texas theater, named in memory of actress Kalita Humphreys, plays with the notion of the hemicycle. Similar circular performing arts designs by Frank Lloyd Wright include the Gammage Theater at Arizona State University.

About the Kalita Humphreys Theatre:

Other Names: Dallas Theater Center
Location: 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd
Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright
Opened: December 27, 1959 (nine months after Wright's death)
Construction: Concrete cantilever; circular 32 foot turning stage on a 40 foot concrete stage; the stage is fronted with rows of seats and backed by a cyclorama; a loft drum area rises above the stage (view an architectural diagram from the Hekman Digital Archive image files)

Sources: The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Second Edition, by William Allin Storrer, MIT Press, 1995, entry 395; About Kalita Humphreys Theater, AT&T Performing Arts Center [accessed November 5, 2013]

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Winspear Opera House

Norman Foster's Winspear Opera House, Dallas, Texas
Norman Foster's Winspear Opera House, Dallas, Texas. Press photo of Winspear Opera House by Tim Hursley, courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center

A sun canopy that surrounds the Winspear Opera House extends the building's footprint into Sammons Park, designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne. Winspear's shading grid of metal louvers also gives linear geometric form to the off-center, elliptical auditorium area within the irregular hexagon structure—very high tech.

About the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House:

Architects: Foster + Partners, Sir Norman Foster and Spencer de Grey
Date Opened: 2009
Style: High-tech modernism
Awards: RIBA International Award; USITT Architecture Awards, Merit Award

Architect's Statement:

"The transparent façade, 60-foot high clear glass wall, gives interior views of the red drum of the auditorium, public concourse, upper-level foyers and grand staircase."


"The Winspear, the new opera house across the street [from Dee and Charles Wyly Theater] designed by Norman Foster of Foster & Partners, doesn’t match the innovation of the Wyly, but its bright lipstick-red form makes a nice counterpoint. Conceived as a classic horseshoe design packed inside a faceted glass case, it is an old-fashioned statement about architecture as public art, in the spirit of 19th-century Paris."—2009, Nicolai Ouroussoff, NY Times

Sources: Projects, Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, Foster + Partners; Architecture, The Dallas Arts District; Cool or Classic: Arts District Counterpoints by Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times, October 14, 2009 [accessed October 31, 2013]

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Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

Wyly Theatre by Rem Koolhaas
Wyly Theatre by Rem Koolhaas. Press photo of Wyly Theatre by Tim Hursley, courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas, Texas

The Dallas Arts District calls this modern design "The world's only vertical theatre." The business end of theater-going (audience's lobby) is underground, the street-level stage area is surrounded by glass, and the production development areas are on the upper floors. The performance stage is the focal point of the building's architecture.

About the Wyly Theatre:

Other Names: Dallas Theater Center
Architects: Joshua Prince-Ramus (REX) and Rem Koolhaas (OMA)
Date Opened: October 2009
Height: 12 stories
Size: 7,700 square meters (80,300 square feet)
Building Materials: Exterior: aluminum and glass; Interior: non-precious materials intended to be re-drilled, re-painted, and reconfigured in multiple ways. Seating and balconies are meant to be removed as scenery would be. "This allows artistic directors to rapidly change the venue into a wide array of configurations that push the limits of the 'multi-form' theatre: proscenium, thrust, traverse, arena, studio, and flat floor...."
Awards: American Institute of Architects' 2010 National Honor Award; American Council of Engineering Companies' 2010 National Gold Award; American Institute of Steel Construction's 2010 IDEAS² Award; U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology's 2012 National Honor Award


"A machinelike interior clad in metal, the Wyly evokes a magician’s box of tricks and, if used well, should allow for continual reinvention of the theatergoing experience. The design proves that when an initial concept is strong enough, it can survive even the vagaries of the architecture world."—2009, Nicolai Ouroussoff, NY Times

Sources: AT&T Performing Arts Center Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, REX website at; Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, OMA website; Architecture and Wyly Theatre at, the Dallas Arts District; Cool or Classic: Arts District Counterpoints by Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times, October 14, 2009 [accessed November 6, 2013]

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Fountain Place

Prism-like Fountain Place, late modernist style skyscraper by I.M. Pei, 1986
Prism-like Fountain Place, late modernist style skyscraper by I.M. Pei, 1986. Photo © Allan Baxter via Getty Images

The architects at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners designed this unique skyscraper to live within the surrounding plaza. Like a crystal growing from the surrounding landscape, the design expands upon the urban ideas of Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building in New York City, built three decades earlier.

About Fountain Place:

Other Names: Allied Bank Tower at Allied Plaza; First Interstate Tower
Architect: Henry N. Cobb
Date Opened: 1986
Height: 60 stories; 720 feet
Architect's Description: "a glazed prism informed by a rigorous and precise geometrical procedure employing the diagonal of a double square in plan and section"
Building Materials: Steel structure with blue glass curtain wall
Awards: Texas Society of Architects 25 Year Award; American Institute of Architects 1990 National Honor Award
Other Buildings by Cobb: John Hancock Tower, Boston

About the Fountain Place Plaza:

Landscape architect Dan Kiley rejected the traditional tree-lined paved park when a Dallas developer showed him the 5.5 acres of land. Instead, Kiley decided on a water garden, "where people would walk on the water and be a part of the design, instead of just looking at water."

Learn more about Fountain Place from The Cultural Landscape Foundation >>>

Sources: Fountain Place, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects LLP; Fountain Place Wins 25-Year Award, Texas Society of Architects; Fountain Place, Emporis [accessed October 31, 2013]. Corporate Website:

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Old Red Courthouse

Romanesque Courthouse with modern observation tower in the background
Romanesque Old Red Museum, formerly Dallas County Courthouse, near the 1970s-era Reunion Tower. Photo by Joe Mabel [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Near the 1970s-era Reunion Tower sits another Dallas landmark—the 1892 Dallas County Courthouse.

Now the Old Red Museum, the Old Red Courthouse is an historic example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, a style made popular after Boston's 1877 Trinity Church by Henry Hobson Richardson.

Visit The Old Red Courthouse in Downtown Dallas >>

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Dallas Hotel Indigo

Sullivanesque style Dallas Hotel built in 1925 for Conrad Hilton
Sullivanesque style Dallas Hotel built in 1925 for Conrad Hilton. Photo by M.I.B. at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The artistic design of this historic hotel follows the distinct three-part composition of Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building. The tall building pattern is clear—the first 3 stories, the middle 7 stories, and the top 4 stories are visually separate.

About the Dallas Hotel Indigo:

Other Names: Dallas Hilton, Hilton Hotel, Aristocrat Hotel of Dallas, White Plaza
Developer: Conrad Hilton
Architects: Lang and Witchell
Date Opened: August 6, 1925
Style: Sullivanesque, after architect Louis Sullivan, with Beaux Arts detailing
Height: 14 stories, horseshoe plan around an open court
Construction Materials: Reinforced concrete and masonry structure; terra cotta, granite, cast iron, and wrought iron detailing
Notoriety: First high rise hotel in Texas

Compare to the 1912 Adolphus Hotel from A Walking Tour of Downtown Dallas at

Source: The Aritocrat Hotel of Dallas [accessed November 6, 2013]

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Wilson Building, 1904

One of the oldest buildings in Dallas, Texas, the 1904 Wilson Building
Wilson Building, 1904, Dallas, Texas. Photo by Joe Mabel [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It is said that the multi-millionaire cattle baron J.B. Wilson patterned his E-shaped Dallas building after the Paris Opera House. Today, as another 20th century example of adaptive reuse, the historic commercial low-rise is being leased as upscale apartments.

About the Wilson Building:

Location: 1623 Main Street, Dallas, Texas
Date Opened: 1904
Architect: Sanguinet & Staats
Height: 110 feet; 8 stories
Architectural Style: Second Empire

Source: Wilson Building, Emporis [accessed November 6, 2013]

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Perot Museum by Thom Mayne

Perot Museum of Nature & Science designed by Thom Mayne, 2013, Dallas, Texas
Perot Museum of Nature & Science designed by Thom Mayne, 2013, Dallas, Texas. Photo by George Rose/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images

The Perot Museum is located in the planned community of Victory Park, a project of developer Ross Perot, Jr., son of Texas billionaire Ross Perot.

About the Perot Museum of Nature and Science:

Architects: Morphosis Team, Design Director Thom Mayne
Date Opened: 2012
Size: 180,000 gross square feet on 4.7 acres

Architect's Statement:

"By integrating architecture, nature, and technology, the building demonstrates scientific principles and stimulates curiosity in our natural surroundings....The overall building mass is conceived as a large cube floating over the site's landscaped plinth. An acre of undulating roofscape comprised of rock and native drought-resistant grasses reflects Dallas's indigenous geology and demonstrates a living system that will evolve naturally over time."

More from this Architect:

Source: Perot Museum of Nature and Science, morphopedia, Posted Sep 17, 2009 / Last Edited Nov 13, 2012, Morphosis Architects [accessed October 31, 2013]

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Nasher Sculpture Center by Renzo Piano

Overhead photo of 5 sectioned building on city block with sculpture garden in remaining block area
Nasher Sculpture Center, 2003, Renzo Piano (Design Architect) and Peter Walker (Landscape Architect). Photo ©2003 props on, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nasher is one of the earlier buildings in what is called the Dallas Arts District. A glass ceiling bathes the interior exhibition areas with natural light. A unique, custom-made cast aluminum sunscreen atop the glass roof regulates the intense Texas sunshine. For years, the design worked well, until the Museum Tower skyscraper was built nearby. Reminiscent of the Disney Hall glare in Los Angeles, the controversial 2013 residential tower—ironically designed by Scott Johnson from LA—casts unwanted reflected sunshine onto the artwork below.

About Nasher Sculpture Garden:

Architects: Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Design Architect; Peter Walker and Partners, Landscape Architects
Date Opened: 2003
Building Size: a row of 5 pavilions, each 112 feet long and 32 feet wide
Building Materials: Italian travertine, glass, steel, and oak

Take a tour of the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Dallas Arts District

Source: Project Details, Building Overview, Fact Sheet from Nasher Sculpture Garden Press Kit