Architecture News

New York design firm is hired to redo Dallas' Kalita Humphreys Theater

NY design firm is selected to redo Dallas' Kalita Humphreys Theater

Kalita Humphreys Theater
Kalita Humphreys Theater was built in 1959 but looks modern to this day. Photo courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

There's promising progress on a Dallas landmark that's been in distress: The Kalita Humphreys Theater in Dallas' Turtle Creek, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, has a New York design studio on board to begin a renovation.

The firm is Diller Scofidio + Renfro, whose work includes the redesign of the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts Campus and the Museum of Modern Art.

Kalita Humphreys Theater been home to the Dallas Theater Center (DTC) since it opened in 1959. Uptown Players, the city's foremost LGBTQ theater company, also regularly performs there.

According to a release, a steering committee made up of diverse community stakeholders selected Diller Scofidio + Renfro. They'll develop a master plan with DTC for the theater and the nine-acre site. It will include new theater spaces and will connect the Katy Trail, Dean Park, and the surrounding neighborhoods of Uptown, Turtle Creek and Oak Lawn to the Kalita Humphreys campus, making the site accessible to the public.

The Kalita Humphreys Theater was the only free-standing theater that Wright designed that was built during his lifetime. Like all of his projects, the design was considered bold and innovative, and integrated with nature, as it was built into a limestone bluff overlooking Turtle Creek.

The release notes its unique revolving stage, one that it says exemplifies Wright's Organic Theory of architecture, stressing the unification of the building's form and function, the harmony of the building's structure with its natural setting, and the aesthetically pleasing manipulation of space. 

Jennifer Altabef, chair of the DTC’s board, says in a statement that the creation of two smaller theaters allow DTC and other local companies to perform regularly on the site, "in harmony with the goals of the new Dallas Cultural Plan. We will work with Dallas' Office of Arts and Culture and the theater community to make this incredible asset available to more theater companies and audiences,” she says.

Charles Renfro will lead the development of the master plan in collaboration with his partners at Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Raised in Baytown, Renfro graduated from Rice University in Houston and Columbia University in New York and has worked on the redesign of the MoMA, the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts and the High Line.

He notes in a statement that the theater's "bucolic setting" between Turtle Creek and the Katy Trail has been overwhelmed by parking lots and roadways.

"Our approach will seek to slow the site down and add new architecturally significant programs grown out of the surrounding urban green," he says.

DTC and its partners intend to present a plan to the city’s Office of Arts and Culture by the end of 2020. The Dallas City Council will be asked to give final approval of the plan.

While no specific decisions have been made on any individual aspect of the project, DTC looks forward to hearing from the public and various stakeholders in order to inform the design process.

There'll be a public information session on March 4, from 5:30-7 pm at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. Diller Scofidio + Renfro will present their relevant past works. Attendees will be invited to provide written feedback.

The Kalita Humphreys Steering Committee members include:

  • Andy Smith, executive director, Texas Instruments Foundation
  • Carol Glendenning, member, Clark Hill Strasburger
  • Guinea Bennett-Price: co-artistic director, co-founder, Soul Rep Theatre
  • Harrison Blair, president, Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce
  • Hilda Rodriguez, principal architect
  • Jeff Rane, artistic producer, Uptown Players
  • Jennifer Scripps, director, city of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture
  • Katherine Seale, architectural historian
  • Linda Perryman Evans, past president and CEO, The Meadows Foundation
  • Marshall Payne, founding partner and chairman of the board, CIC Partners
  • Peer Chacko, director, city of Dallas Office of Planning & Urban Design
  • Ramon Miguez, vice president, HDR
  • Rob Little, partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
  • Willis Winters, former director, Dallas Parks and Recreation Department
  • Zaida Basora, vice president, AIA Dallas