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Is Chicago a Second City of Architecture... Behind Dallas?

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Does being the birthplace of the skyscraper matter anymore? A new article by CityLab suggests that, contrary to conventional wisdom that might name New York or Chicago as the nation's architecture capital, Dallas actually has the best architecture per square mile of any American city. The argument rests on density. The arts district of this Texas metropolis boasts designs by six Pritzker Prize winners: I.M. Pei (Meyerson Symphony Center), Rem Koolhaas (Wyly Theatre), Renzo Piano (Nasher Sculpture Center), Norman Foster (Winspear Opera House), Philip Johnson (Thanks-Giving Square) and Thom Mayne (Perot Museum of Nature and Science). Think that stings, Chicago architecture fans? The article's second-place city was Houston.

The author does note that for many reasons, ranking cities by their prize count isn't necessarily the best way forward, and does call out Chicago Architecture Foundation's boat tours for displaying the more "dynamic range of design." And let's be fair, that is a pretty incredible list of big-name architects, a collection of fantastic projects mostly done in the last 15 years and serious hardware in terms of awards and recognition.

But Chicago really can't win the density argument? Let's compare that area of Dallas with the northern part of the Loop, roughly bounded by Marina City on the north, the Pritzker Pavilion on the east and the Willis Tower on the west (yes, it's slightly more than a mile across). Here's just six of the iconic buildings and the architects responsible: Marina City (Bertrand Goldberg), Pritzker Pavilion (Frank Gehry), Willis Tower (Bruce Graham and SOM), Monadnock (Burnham & Root and Holabird & Roche), the Rookery (Burnham & Root) and the Art Institute's Modern Wing (Renzo Piano). While that's only two Pritzker winners, it's also a recognized neighborhood filled with great examples of landscape architecture, such as Millennium Park.

Say we expand the boundaries a bit beyond this square mile. Chicago can quickly add the Hancock Building (Graham again), Auditorium Building (Adler & Sullivan), Aqua Tower (Jeanne Gang), Lake Point Tower (Schipporeit and Heinrich) and Tribune Tower (Howells & Hood). Take the entire metro area, and you can throw in masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright (Robie House) and Mies Van Der Rohe (S.R. Crown Hall), as well as numerous other buildings. And let's not forget about the upcoming Chicago Architecture Biennial taking place this year, which will explore the city's architectural legacy and upcoming projects.

What can Dallas add outside of the stacked arts district? The Kalita Humphries Theater, one of three surviving auditoriums by Frank Lloyd Wright and an example of his organic style, was completed nine months after his death. I.M. Pei's inverted Brutalist pyramid of a city hall, built in 1978, is a futuristic seat of government that was featured in Robocop. The city also boasts a Eero Saarinen-designed mall (NorthPark Center), Ricardo Legorreta's Latino Cultural Center and two additional Philip Johnson projects (the Crescent and John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza).

With the Arts District buildings in question, Dallas has proven a great home for new and exciting architecture. But we'd be remiss if we didn't think Chicago still deserved the crown.

·For the Best U.S. Architecture Per Square Mile, Head to Dallas [CityLab]
·Architectural Craziness archives [Curbed Chicago]