A Vision Fulfilled

The completion of the AT&T Performing Arts Center— with the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House taking center stage— brings a 25-year plan to fruition and places Dallas at the heart of the cultural world.

Texas isn’t the first place that comes to mind where the cultural arts are concerned—until now, that is. With the recent opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, a new multi-venue center for music, opera, theater and dance, the 25-year vision of the Dallas Arts District (DAD) has been fulfilled, creating what some have called the most significant new performing arts complex to be built since New York City’s Lincoln Center. To be sure, Dallas can now boast the fact that it is the only city in the world with buildings designed by four Pritzker Prize-winning architects in one contiguous block, according to DAD.

The Center provides multiple state-of-the-art facilities woven together by an urban park covering more than 10 acres to create a dynamic cultural destination that is unparalleled.

Central to the complex is the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, which redefines the opera house for the 21st century—breaking down barriers to make opera more accessible for a wider audience. Responding to the Dallas climate, a solar canopy extends from the building, shading a fully glazed, 60-foot-tall lobby which enhances the transparency of the building.

This establishes a direct relationship between inside and outside, creating greater accessibility and thus a more democratic building. Beneath the canopy, which forms an integral part of the environmental strategy, a shaded pedestrian plaza creates a major new public space for Dallas, as defined by the master plan designed by Foster + Partners and Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) for the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

“This project is about the creation of a building that offers a truly democratic experience of opera for the 21st century,” explains Norman Foster, founder and chairman of Foster + Partners. “We wanted to create a sense of immediacy—from the moment you step into the external plaza to the opening of the curtain—and we wanted the auditorium to be expressed on the outside; the red glass drum is a symbol of performance—the glowing heart of the entire AT&T Performing Arts Center.”

Internally, behind the glazed screen, there are a series of publicly welcoming spaces, which wrap around the rich, red glass drum of the 2,200-seat auditorium. Entered beneath a lower canopy, the transition from the Grand Plaza through the lobby into the auditorium is designed to heighten the drama for those attending a performance—in effect, “taking theater to the audience.” The grand staircase, flowing from one side to the other around the drum, links all the lobby spaces, providing an opportunity for the audience to pause, talk and observe. Deep cuts into the drum allow the audience to move horizontally around each of the four balcony levels.

The auditorium, which holds an audience of 2,200, is designed to be as intimate as possible. A horseshoe plan combined with the dramatic vertical stacking of its six seating levels ensures that the audience is as close as possible to the stage, thus enhancing the impact of the performance. The distance between the stage and the balcony is only 85 feet—less than the distance between home plate and third base on a baseball field. Intimacy is further reinforced by emphasizing the balcony fronts, with their white gold finish highlighted against the rich, dark red interior. The carefully designed acoustics are also enhanced by the compactness of the auditorium. The detail and finishes improve the resonance of the human voice, while making the orchestra sound rich but clear.