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Talmadge Smith of Page on the new Fountain Place Tower

Talmadge Smith of Page on the new Fountain Place Tower

Design:ED Podcast is an inside look into the field of architecture told from the perspective of individuals that are leading the industry. This motivational series grants unique insight into the making of a successful design career, from humble beginnings to worldwide recognition. Every week, featured guests share their personal highs and lows on their journey to success, that is sure to inspire audiences at all levels of the industry. Listening to their stories will provide a rare blueprint for anyone seeking to advance their career, and elevate their work to the next level.

In this episode, host Aaron Prinz speaks with Talmadge Smith, Principal of Page, and discusses the process of designing the new Fountain Place tower in downtown Dallas adjacent to the iconic building originally designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. He provides a detailed look into their design decisions regarding form, color, and how they paid tribute to the existing Fountain Place.


The existing Fountain Place tower in downtown Dallas is one of the highlights of the Dallas Skyline and is also designed by the late I. M. Pei’s firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Can you take us through what made the original Fountain Place tower so special for Dallas? (2:05)

“I grew up in Dallas and I remember when Fountain Place was built. I changed the west side of downtown Dallas, really, forever because downtown Dallas was dense in the middle but very sparse on the west. When that tower came in with that form and with that color… That’s what you navigated by. That’s how you got around downtown… So, it’s always kind of been in my brain, that building. What I did not know was that there was a master plan for a second building, and it was intended to be a twin building to Fountain Place but rotated 90 degrees. Really bookending the Dan Kiley landscape in the middle. That would have blown everybody’s mind if they had done it. The savings and loans crisis wiped out that possibility, so it didn’t happen. There was debate in Dallas, “should we do this?” Every once in awhile the plan would resurrect, were they going to build a second Fountain Place? In the end, if they had in my opinion, the project would have diminished, ever so slightly, the power of the first building because it’s really, really, powerful. That form is incredibly sculptural. That was Harry Cobb. It was Pei Cobb Freed but that was definitely Harry’s job and it’s one of his finest…”  

As a young designer, the thought of trying to design an adjacent tower to such an important building sounds terrifying to me. What was the process that you went through to ensure that Page’s design was appropriate for the existing context? (3:55)

“It was absolute fear and trepidation, no doubt. That building, you definitely don’t want to screw it up, and you definitely don’t want to screw it up in your hometown. It was somewhat terrifying until we kind of got warmed up. I think the way we got warmed up was with context. I’m a huge fan of context. You had a building with immediate context surrounding it and you had this plaza. If you’re not familiar with that plaza, it’s Dan Kiley and one of his greatest pieces… You’re in this forest of cypress in this watery world in the middle of downtown with this fantastic colored glass building next door. It is transformative… You forget where you are. I Googled Fountain Place tower, just an image search. I found some great construction photos, found the steel going up. Just really inspirational images, just doing some work on the history, and then I see an image. The image was a do-it-yourself model kit to make Fountain Place. It was a one sheet deal where you printed it out and you could fold Fountain Place together with just two contiguous pieces of paper. You had to do a little origami and it came together. I built one of those and just marveled that form. Its symmetry is unexpected. It’s not a pure isosceles. It’s purely symmetrical, but its bilateral line of symmetry isn’t normal to the site. It is kind of canted over maybe thirty-two degrees so it’s a phenomenal shape. Really someone who is a master of form, and that is what set us to looking at form. How do you respond to symmetry? Can you do Symmetry better than Harry Cobb? And I decided that we could not do symmetry better than Harry Cobb. He built an entire career on that, so we needed to do something that was a sister form or a cousin form to that. Taking some cues from that but not going all the way towards a sycophantic type of mimicry of that form… It was all about the physical model. Doing it digitally, we couldn’t really get the direction that we needed to get, so we just started making physical models. We had a goal that we were going to make a model every hour. They weren’t great, they weren’t perfect, they weren’t beautiful, but we were just testing form. Thirty or forty models in we started to get to something. We had two really solid schemes that worked. Those buildings had to hold multi-family and a multi-family plate is a totally different size than an office plate… Radically different programs needing to have a similar form, but using different technologies. That was the challenge…”  

The green tone of the existing building is so distinct. What was the role of color throughout your design process? (8:45)

“It was a big debate amongst all of us. Do we try to match this thing next door or do we go on our own? Do we go grey, or blue, or ultra clear, or black, you know, what is the right color to put next to this? That was an interesting discussion and we came down on lets try to match Fountain Place. We are form-wise going to be similar but not identical. We are sharing this plaza and there was a chance to co-brand the two buildings together. The group that owns Fountain Place knew that they wanted to build something on the other half of the plaza and complete the plaza. They really needed to have that urban container with that plaza in between, but they knew that they didn’t want another office building next door. They wanted multi-family and they wanted 24/7 use to activate the plaza and get some more retail going. Genius move and that is today. If this had been built in 1986 nobody was talking mixed use. Nobody was talking 24/7, and downtown Dallas was not a place that you wanted to be 24/7. It is today, so all for the good. That’s the beauty of cities and the way that they evolve. You don’t want to build a city all at once and sometimes you don’t want to complete your master plan all at once. So, we matched the glass, and the owners of Fountain Place were kind enough to let us take out five or seven pieces of their glass. We purchased and fabricated seven new IGU’s, high performing glass, and we put them on the existing Fountain Place building. We just watched it for a couple of months. We would go out at different times of day, and we got to see it through a little solar cycle to see what the coloration was like, and we chose the one that was the closest. That’s what we put on the building…”     

You previously worked for Pelli Clarke Pellie, a firm known for designing high-rise towers. How did that experience working with César Pelli influence the work that you do at Page? (15:30)

César Pelli, all the tributes are out there. They’re true. That man was so kind and such a great human being that he just attracted really great people. He created a culture in that office where everybody had a voice and everybody was respected at the table. Everybody could throw out design ideas and were encouraged to throw out design ideas. That influenced me very deeply. The culture was one of family, and the culture was one of “hey we are lucky that we get to do this profession period, and we are really lucky that we get to do fantastic buildings when we get them. So, enjoy it.” That was the culture at Pelli’s and it was good. It’s one that I try to continue that legacy in the way that I work. I want the work to be exciting and energetic, and I want to maintain that sense that we have a responsibility to our clients and to ourselves but also to our cities. César was all about the city. He built some iconic buildings. The Salesforce tower, you were just saying that there is some debate about the scale relative to the surroundings, but I guarantee you that César was really aware of what that was going to do in the city and he made very specific decisions to shape that tower in a way that if they were going to build it, and build it that tall, it was going to be as good as it possibly could be for the city and the occupants of that building. A lot of focus on the users. That is sort of his legacy back to me. Tons of respect for him…”       

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Cite: Design:ED. "Talmadge Smith of Page on the new Fountain Place Tower" 29 Nov 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/929318/talmadge-smith-of-page-on-the-new-fountain-place-tower> ISSN 0719-8884

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