In many municipalities, public shade structures can be an afterthought: Prop a canopy on some posts, and shade you shall have. Not so in Dallas, Texas. Two bond referenda there, in 2003 and 2006, allocated money to replace some 30 of the city’s park pavilions, and Dallas Park & Recreation assistant director Willis C. Winters, FAIA, envisioned something rather ambitious: The city would treat each pavilion as a distinct commission, hiring architects—including firms such as Lake|Flato Architects, Elliott and Associates, and Snøhetta—to design the park structures. For Webb Chapel Park, in a residential area northwest of downtown, Winters tapped New York–based Cooper Joseph Studio, which had earned acclaim in Dallas with the Women’s Museum, designed by partner Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA.

The commission came with loosely defined program requirements: shade, seating, durability, and ample sightlines through the space. The old pavilions being replaced were simple concrete T-beam shade canopies. Cooper Joseph turned to the same material for its Webb Chapel Park Pavilion. “Dallas is known for the quality of its concrete industry, so for us, it was the perfect material for a small structure with integrity and boldness,” Evans Joseph says. But the architects modified their approach in formally and functionally inventive ways.

Rather than follow the precedents for a minimal profile, Cooper Joseph went maximal. “We didn’t want thin,” says partner Chris Cooper, AIA. “We went robust.” But the impressive volume of the pavilion’s crown is no mere flourish. Within the concrete roof, the architects embedded four hollowed-out voids, each culminating in a uniquely shaped vent. Together, these create an airflow through the pavilion, drawing hot air out from under the roof. Painted bright yellow, these cavities animate the pavilion space and cool it as well. A berm hugs the seating area on three sides and serves as a thermal mass that reinforces the cooling effect.

Thanks to the pavilion’s boxlike form, the architects were also able to minimize the visible supports and promote a visual seamlessness between the enclosure and its surroundings. A thin concrete canopy would demand a grove of columns, but the volumetric roof allowed the architects to embed bracing beams within, mini­mizing the structural demands underneath. “By going with this robust depth, we could achieve a cantilever,” Cooper says, which wouldn’t have been possible with a thin concrete profile.

While the form allows for ventilation and a simple structural resolution, it also accomplishes one of the central objectives of the Park & Recreation design excellence program: It establishes a striking visual landmark. “We tried to make something of consequence,” Cooper says, but also “something that didn’t seem to just drop from the sky.” Nestled as it is into the landscape, the pavilion seems anything but.

Webb Chapel Park Pavilion
Project Webb Chapel Park Pavilion, Dallas, Texas
Client City of Dallas
Architect Cooper Joseph Studio, New York—Wendy Evans Joseph, FAIA (principal-in-charge); Chris Cooper, AIA (principal-in-charge); Chris Good (project manager/design team); Read Langworthy (design team)
Associate Architect Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture, Dallas, Texas—Nancy McCoy, FAIA (principal-in-charge); Susan Bruns (project manager)
StructuralEngineer Jaster-Quintanilla Engineering—John Hoenig
ElectricalEngineer Gerard & Associates Consulting Engineers—Walter Gerard, P.E.
ConcreteConsultant Reginald D. Hough, FAIA
GeneralContractor Phoenix I Restoration & Construction
Size 903 square feet
Cost $250,000

Materials and Sources 
Concrete Cast-in-place concrete: 40% slag mix, 10.8% flyash
Finishes Fine-grained exterior plaster; yellow paint
Furniture Painted steel benches and tables with Ipe wood tops
Walls Exterior cement board framing (light cones)