The Perot Museum and Downtown Dallas

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has an exterior that looks like one of the collection’s incredible mineral crystals. Conjunctive cubes intersect each other and rest on an undulating foundation of polished concrete, rocks and shrubs. The building itself appears to be in a state of change, which is appropriate for a science museum. These institutions have been evolving for two centuries and continue to experiment with modes of conveying information.

The museum uses many strategies within its exhibit halls, some more successful than others. My personal preferences are for spectacle and physical encounters over text-heavy panels and interactive screens. They do a remarkable job of relating exhibits to Texas and back to humans. Exhibits often talk about practical utility and come up with imaginative ways to convey scale. While we may be a small part of the universe, it’s nice not to feel insignificant.

Most museums do not allow touching or photography, but this one encourages both. It is so satisfying to quench that primal need to touch things and capture visual beauty. And the gathering crowds here day after day demonstrate that the museum is doing most things right. The bottom line is that you will enjoy visiting this museum, which is both impressive and family friendly.

I was going to write a detailed review of the museum, but Edward Rothstein has already done that in his “New York Times” article “Bursting with Science, Some of it Unsettling.”

The truth is that cultural institutions are not experienced in isolation. They are part of a bundled experience with the rest of city. The best are pedestrian experiences which meander from museums, to parks, to restaurants and allow people to roam casually. People want to explore in groups and relax in groups.

Dallas has done a great job of creating destinations, but they are not yet tied together. After leaving the Perot Museum, throngs of people were trying to make their way to Klyde Warren Park. In spite of Dallas providing no easy walkway nor entrance, people hacked their way. They walked next to fast cars, hopped over the concrete barricades and found covert ways into the park.

Once in the park and eating a delicious sandwich, I barely noticed the Dallas Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture Center behind the food trucks, busy street and wall of trees. Nobody was walking over there. This is a shame because they are great institutions. They need to find a way to invite the crowds in, which is as simple as removing those physical barriers.

Dallas has done the hard part by creating an incredible density of world-class institutions: the Arts District, the park, the Perot Museum and the Dallas World Aquarium. But they all need to be tied together—this is less than ten blocks wide. They need to naturally complement each other and provide the ease of flow people crave. This would truly connect downtown with uptown, making the whole area walkable. Dallas is so close.

The Kyde Warren Park at the center of everything is a wonderful first step. But it was designed as if the surrounding roads were beautiful waterways (like Venice)…they are not. The roads form a noose, strangling the potential of this area. All of these access roads to the highway should be shut down, preserving only the highway itself (running underneath the park). This would make room for green spaces, walkways and developments that encourage lounging, gathering and slowness in general.

It will take leadership with a long view of the future to forcibly make this happen. It needs to happen with a sense of decadence and no consideration for “efficiency.” The majesty of that success would completely trump short-term complaints and actually benefit everyone involved. Crowds would gather, the residential boom would happen (in Victory Park and other luxury condos) and people would love it. However, I’m not really optimistic about this happening. They may connect the DMA and Nasher with the park, but stopping there is thinking small.

Cities become recognized for having great cultural institutions, but they only become loved when space is carved out for pedestrian leisure between those institutions.

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Chris Jagers is the Founder and Director of Slideroom.com. The company provides an online applicant management system to museums, universities and other institutions nationwide. He received his BFA from SMU and his MFA from University of Washington.

also by Chris Jagers

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4 responses to “The Perot Museum and Downtown Dallas”

  1. I agree. These experiences should be programmed and spatially over-determined. Everything visible always. Let’s pretend we never learned anything from radical Parisian urbanists in the 1950s. Happy birthday, Sheila E!

  2. PREACH IT

    What’s the next step here, then? I’m all for advocating a more urban, walkable Dallas—should we start a campaign?

  3. Do not be so negative about the Klyde Park. Parking is a problem all over the city. The park is a beautiful addition to the city. Perhaps the City Fathers could encourage and support DART and solve that problem. Where isn’t parking a problem?

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