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The Power Station

The Power Station is an indoor/outdoor art exhibition space, guest artist’s residence, and not-for-profit organization that invites artists to respond to the raw character of the architecture, a historic, 1926 Dallas Power & Light electrical substation. The post-industrial spaces offer an alternative to the traditional gallery or museum context. Here an urban garden gallery has sprung to life within the former industrial compound.

The Power Station is a significant and prominent Dallas restoration, demonstrating what can happen when vision and creativity are at the helm of the process. Programming and development of the site’s exterior spaces were as important to the success of the project as was the architectural restoration of the building. Much of the garden’s design originated from studying the views from inside the building with selective use of both hardscape and plant material for screening. Juxtaposed with the historic architectural details of the substation, the garden’s aesthetic incorporates simple modern element constructed from a restrained materials palette of crushed aggregate and rip rap, architectural and recycled concrete, steel, and native plantings. The continual patination of these materials ties aging but timeless architecture to garden in a complimentary fashion.

The exterior of the compound presents a unique urban streetscape experience for the flow of pedestrians travelling by on their way to the Santa Fe Trail, a bicycling and running trail. Along the eastern flank a cast-in-place concrete wall reinforces the parallel building face and street edge, while creating a minimalist outdoor room as an extension of the building’s interior. A collaborative effort with artist Jacob Kassay resulted in an elegant sculptural intervention in this space. Much of the existing concrete pavement was retained and creatively incorporated into the new streetscape design. A section of the existing concrete was core drilled in a grid to create holes for plant interventions and increased permeability. The core drills are repurposed at the main entry, an exercise in reclamation and reuse.

Securing the interior garden space is beautifully articulated steel picket fence. It creates a physical barrier along the west while maintaining visual porosity into the gardens. The vertical cantilevered pickets animate the site with shadows as the sun crosses the site throughout the seasons. This sculptural use of materials increases the sense of scale, and therefore the functionality of the small exterior courtyards. An unused, remnant concrete shaft is exposed and planted with iris, sedges, and horsetail reed as slightly sunken rainwater garden. The exposed steel rebar “stiches” of the walls create an interesting contrast of old versus new. This is another of several minimal interventions that increases permeability across the post-industrial site, allowing absorption of rainwater and minimizing run-off discharge to the city storm water system.

The site was healed back with extensive native and adapted plant material. Areas were strategically left unirrigated for a straightforward sustainable approach to site water management. A lone Mesquite Tree becomes a sculptural element announcing the entrance to the gardens and stair tower beyond. A colony of xeric, spineless prickly pear consumes the south and east side of the site providing an unusual and continuous graphic texture along the city sidewalks. A matrix of seasonal vine species was used on a chain-link enclosed four-story stair tower where they quickly engulfed the vertical surfaces to create a towering green enclosure. The vines provide the sense of privacy and security, and help shade the stair and building against the west Texas sun.

This small contemporary urban garden healed-back a former industrial site, and had simple program requirements of privacy and usability. The building and garden relate to one another gently through the careful manipulation of crisp architectural elements that are then intentionally eroded by more informal, lush plant material. In Dallas where new construction is typically preferred, this project is a welcomed reminder that a thoughtful renovation of historical building and site can generate spaces that provide both form and function.

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