In welcome news for architecture and journalism alike, The Dallas Morning News reports today the hire of Mark Lamster as its new architecture critic. Lamster also joins the faculty of the David Dillon Center for Texas Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Lamster is a longtime friend of ARCHITECT, and he's written for this magazine about both architecture and architects. Lamster's recent work for the magazine includes a review of "9+1 Ways of Being Political" at the Museum of Modern Art and a look at the graphic-novel monograph by Bjarke Ingels Group. Looking beyond his project features and reviews, Lamster profiled the Woodbury University School of Architecture and its majority–minority program student body. When architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable died in January, Lamster penned an appreciation that focused on her complex relationship with architect Philip Johnson.
Lamster is working on a biography of the late architect Johnson, whose significance in Dallas is hard to overstate. (Johnson's designs for the Dallas–Fort Worth area include the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth and the John F. Kennedy Memorial and Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas.) Lamster is bound to know the area well already, but he has his work cut out for him. Tim Rogers at D magazine didn't much care for Lamster's announcement about moving to Dallas, and, well, promptly offered to punch him in the neck. But Peter Simek at D has kinder words, and Texans are, on the whole, a welcoming bunch.
"We’re used to kvetching about the state of criticism, but it really can’t be overstated what a boon this is for Dallas," Simek writes. "Daily newspapers just don’t hire a lot of new critics these days, and so it really bodes well that The Dallas Morning News would work to find a way to make this work." Simek is right. As a matter of fact, it's been the goal at DFW's paper of record to hire an architecture critic since at least 2006, when art critic Janet Kutner accepted a buyout and the paper looked to outside contributors to supplement its remaining core critics' assessments of the arts and the built environment in Dallas. (Full disclosure: I've worked for The Dallas Morning News as a contributor.) That a newspaper and a university conspired to bring a critic aboard both institutions wouldn't be the first such arrangement in journalism, and it speaks to possibilities for the future of journalism in this particular field.
This development is positive for Dallas and for Lamster, but the biggest winner may prove to be the cities and leaders looking to Dallas as a model—albeit one in transition. Dallas is nobody's vision of a pedestrian-friendly, public transit–enabled, high-density utopia. Yet the excitement in Dallas about making strides in terms of urban planning is palpable, and activism toward these ends is seeing results. Klyde Warren Park, a $110 million park built over the Goodall Rodgers Freeway and opened last fall, is one example. The Dallas City Council is asking for serious money for new biking infrastructure and education. On the other hand, a toll road proposal looms over the Trinity River Corridor Project, which is a major plan to redevelop the Trinity River and its urban bottomland forest, the largest in the world. What's clear now is that the Trinity River project will improve access to and provide protections for the largest urban park in the U.S. What is less clear is whether it will also include a toll road that will divide the city, or how you build the latter while still providing the former.
In terms of design, there's a great deal to be excited about in D-Town these days: from smaller projects such as the Webb Chapel Park Pavilion by Cooper Joseph Studio to the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre by OMA in Dallas's vibrant urban arts district. The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by Santiago Calatrava, which opened last fall, is the first of three bridges by Calatrava that will span the Trinity River. Lamster stands to provide the official account as a city transforms itself from the bottom up.
The future of Dallas should make for good journalism—better, even, than the story of a skyscraper melting a museum. He'll be writing about urban planning on the front lines, where there are larger obstacles than mere NIMBYs standing in the way of change. In anticipation of his new post, Lamster tells me over email that he's got a 1947 essay by Henry Russell Hitchcock on the brain: "The Architecture of Bureaucracy and the Architecture of Genius." In Dallas, he'll find his share of both.