Today at noon at an invitation-only ribbon-cutting, officials will dedicate the last of the three venues of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Annette Strauss Square is named for the former Dallas mayor, a long-time arts supporter. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports on the new facility.
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One of the trickier mandates for the design and layout of the AT&T Performing Arts Center was preserving Annette Strauss Square. The open-air amphitheater already existed as a temporary structure — a simple stage and tent awning — so it had to move for the Winspear Opera House to be built. The new Square now fits tightly between the Winspear and the Meyerson Symphony Center, more or less slotted under the Winspear’s solar canopy and alongside Woodall Rogers Freeway.
Duncan Fulton (left) is with Good Fulton and Farrell, the Dallas architects who worked with Foster + Partners, the Winspear’s designers who are also behind Strauss Square.
Fulton: “It’s a great location, as you can tell from the view. It was not one that was naturally connected to the street. And so, we had to create a secure ticketing area and to deal with walls that help contain the sound from surrounding venues.”
The surrounding venues will eventually include Woodall Rodgers Park. As a result, Annette Strauss Square is enclosed by a concrete wall that permits entrance only from the Winspear side. That side has a movable metal fence that, when open, can allow events in the Square to spill out and join any festival-like things going on in Sammons Park (or vice versa). Part of the concrete wall on the Woodall side will eventually be softened by already-planted, already-growing trumpet vines.
The lawn seating area is now sloped for better viewing (one function of that concrete wall is to help hold in the hillside from spilling into Woodall’s service drive). There’s now a permanent, concrete deck towards the front for the light and audio controls (below, right). With setback, concrete-and-glass terraces along the Meyerson side, the entire Square can hold around 2,400 people – depending on the use of seats or blankets. And there are permanent restroom facilities in the back, with a larger, load-in space for porta-toilets, if they’re needed.
The location’s acoustics also presented challenges. Fulton says the stage has built-in arrays of speakers focusing music towards the audience, but it also has “distributive” speakers along the sides that create a kind of ‘cushion’ of sound, considerably dampening the surrounding noise from planes and freeway traffic (one speaker is visible in the photo — the dark dot on a pole, halfway up the lawn). He says during a recent sound-test-tuning performance, he could not hear ambient noise when music was played. When the stage got quiet, of course, he could.
But the Square, he adds, is an outdoor urban environment; that’s part of its draw.
There was also concern, especially from the Dallas Symphony, that ‘leakage’ from loud, amplified shows in the Square might affect concerts in the Meyerson. That’s been addressed, says Fulton. Robert Essert, whose Sound Space Design, handled the Winspear’s acoustics, worked on the Square as well.
Fulton: “We ran a series of studies, and the early information is they were within a decibel of what the predictions were.”
The Square is basically a sleek, spare, dark-grey, open box. It was designed to fit in unobtrusively with the surrounding Winspear architecture — even when given a subdued checkerboard of zinc and anodized aluminum panels on the sides of the Shannon and Ted Skokos Pavilion. Strauss Square is considerably smaller than Superpages.com Center at Fair Park (which can hold 20,000), but it will be able to host concerts, screenings, dance events and simulcasts, notably the Dallas Opera’s first simulcast on Oct. 22, the opening night of Don Giovanni.
But the first free, public event in the Square will be DanceAfrica Marketplace, presented by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Oct. 9. Following that, the Dallas Film Society will be presenting the Square’s first free film screening — with Casablanca on Oct. 16.
At noon today at the ribbon-cutting, Mayor Tom Leppert will speak, along with Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University, and members of the Strauss family. Performers include dancers from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Lewis J. Warren, a 13-year-old piano prodigy.
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