News Article | 6/25/2006

W works better outside than in

Most W hotels are inside jobs – high-concept decor and furnishings slipped into older architectural wrappers. The W Dallas-Victory is just the opposite, an architecturally adventurous new building containing a hodgepodge of decorative elements, some stunning, others curiously bland and trite, as though the interior designers couldn’t decide what they wanted to do so they did a little of everything.

The Dallas W was designed by HKS Architects, better known for production expertise than design. Yet all those years of turning out construction drawings for star architects has paid off. This is the best building to come out of HKS in years, a dramatic shift from the program-driven commercial work of the past.

Much of the credit belongs to Edward Abeyta, a 36-year-old designer who from the beginning wanted a tower that both marked a place and reinforced basic urban ideas of street, block and square.

In early sketches the W tower is labeled “campanile” and is linked to a “piazza” known as Victory Plaza that creates a forecourt for the American Airlines Center “basilica.” This may sound silly, but the underlying idea is not.

“We thought it was important that the individual architectural pieces shape the parks, plazas and other public spaces instead of being isolated objects,” Mr. Abeyta says.

So instead of a monolithic tower in which the proportions of the windows or the color of the glass identify different functions, he broke it into discrete but complementary pieces.

The W has square windows and Texas limestone walls, very crisp and businesslike, that form a hard urban edge along the street – a bit too hard on Houston Street where it fragments into loading docks and parking ramps.

The condo tower above the hotel, on the other hand, is a lighter and more transparent blend of steel, concrete and glass, with an outdoor pool on the 16th floor marking the transition from one to the other. The tower pivots around this liquid void, as if it had a mind of its own, with developer Ross Perot Jr.’s rooftop helipad serving as a kind of party hat. The result is a bold, confident composition that works on both the street and the skyline.

The facades are equally animated, one responding to the curve of Victory Lane, the project’s Main Street, and the sweep of Stemmons Freeway in the distance; the other angling back toward the downtown skyline, suggesting the W is, or maybe could be, an extension of the existing downtown instead of an alternative to it.

These may sound like esoteric points, yet they are the difference between city building and gratuitous form-making. Dallas loves free-standing icons but cares little about the links between them. So people routinely drive from point to point, even if they’re only a few blocks apart, because the walk, and not the weather, is so unpleasant.

Because the W tapers to a point at Victory Plaza, the main entrance is on the side rather than the front, a straightforward porte-cochere with a fountain and a light wall that glows in the evening.

On the other side of the door, however, confusion reigns.

The lobby lounge, called the Living Room, is spectacular, a tall, square space made intimate by cascading crystal light fixtures by Presciosa. And Craft, the hotel’s signature restaurant, is one of Dallas’ most architecturally sophisticated interiors, right up there with Stephan Pyles.

The Living Room – like most of the interiors, designed by Shopworks – features cushy sofas and chairs surrounding Texas limestone coffee tables topped with square vases of wheat grass.

The vernacular touches work here, whereas elsewhere they come off as gratuitous, even a bit patronizing: as in the limestone front on the lobby bar and the rock pool behind the reception desk. Ditto for the cowboy curtain on the main staircase, a nod to Dallas’ nonexistent cowboy heritage.

These are the kinds of details you expect in a Hill Country inn, not a bastion of international cool, where you can go from Wet (pool) to Sweat (gym) to Bliss (spa) in 30 seconds. Eclecticism without an organizing idea is just clutter.

The top floor will be occupied by the Ghostbar, a lux watering hole that is likely to become a fixture of the Dallas club scene. It was unfinished at press time.

Between lobby and roof are rooms – ballrooms, meeting rooms and 252 guest rooms for sybarites on expense accounts. The beds puff up like clouds, there’s chilled Voss water and a rack of W-worthy CDs on your nightstand; you can even put everything on credit and have it shipped home.

But as design it is boring bordering on lugubrious, with ubiquitous eggplant walls relieved by tans and grays, and an occasional fleck of apple; acres of dark teak paneling that looks like cheap veneer, even though it isn’t.

W Dallas-Victory opened with the hype of a Super Bowl, with each component having its own public relations firm. Yet in the end it is just one piece of a larger and more important experiment in urban living, which Dallas has not seen and which it desperately needs. That’s the real attraction here, the thing to watch.


Location: North Houston and Wichita streets

Architect: HKS, Dallas (hotel and tower)

Interior design: Shopworks, Napa, Calif., (hotel) and Bentel & Bentel

(Craft restaurant), Morrison Seifert Murphy, Cadwallader Design (condos)

Developer: Hillwood Development

Size: 33 stories, including 252-room hotel and 63 condos. W Hotel opened Wednesday, condos this summer and fall