For a few more months at least, Fort Worth will offer what very few other cities on the planet can: a trifecta and a half of world-class buildings within walking distance of one another. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Kimbell Art Museum and its attendant Piano Pavilion, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, all designed by Pritzker-winning architects, all open to the public 360-something days a year. Now right across the street from all 3.5 in the Cultural District will come a 170-room hotel designed by the committee affiliated with Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites, and Sleep Inn. The graceful, nearly spiritual harmony in which the Carter, Kimbell, pavilion, and Modern sit will be forever despoiled. This is a big deal.
Fueled by the forthcoming nearby multipurpose arena that no one other than the Bass family and stock show honchos care about, Heart of America’s hotel will stand 10 stories high, casting mostly the Kimbell in shadow. Architectural pilgrimages still will be made — Louis I. Kahn’s building is in a high-modernist category all its own. Art lovers and architecture students will continue studying and admiring it for centuries to come. Considering Heart of America can’t go out and hire Rem Koolhaas, Bjarke Ingels, or some other starchitect and that the Illinois-based hotelier has dabbled in contemporary design (Hotel Renovo, Wildwood Lodge), less will be more. Much more. You can’t compete with the Carter, Kimbell, pavilion, or Modern. Don’t try (“Need and Desire,” March 15).
I’d like to say, “Well, what did you expect in a political backwater like Fort Worth?” But inappropriate buildings pop up everywhere, every day, even in allegedly hip, world-class cosmopolises like Boston, Seattle, and Brooklyn. I just hope that when the Fort Worth City Council takes up the matter next week, people who know better will open their mouths.
When the project was first proposed a few months ago, lots of Cultural District movers and shakers were quick with the spleen-o-grams. The hotel, said Kimbell Director Eric Lee, would appear to be “looming” over his patrons and negatively affect the “serene space” of the Kimbell’s courtyard specifically.
Now that Heart of America has redrawn its plans to accommodate the complaints –– too tall, too many rooms, too big overall — the movers/shakers have grown quiet. “Numerous other local architects and representatives from cultural organizations declined to discuss the project on the record,” says a recent Star-Telegram story.
Is Ed Bass that big of a bully?
Fort Worth’s annual stock show and rodeo generates a lot of money, undoubtedly. Maybe giving shelter to all of those Weatherfordians and Burlesonians and Cleburneans and other exurbanites who make the trip to the big city every January/February to ride the rides and see the sights will “trickle down” to the immediate economy. But looking at development in economic terms only — especially as it relates to the intangible nature of art and architecture –– is how an unhinged manchild becomes president of the United States. Art is civilizing. Respecting it isn’t just humane. It’s financially rewarding. Would anyone in 1936 have expected us to be having this conversation after Kay and Velma Kimbell created their art foundation? Go home with the date who brought you, Fort Worth.