Tuesday, June 27, 2023

What Should Go in the Orange Box?

The City of Richardson is interested in gathering your opinion regarding the new City Hall. They are equally interested in obtaining the perspectives of the current City Council members. While the survey you may have come across on Richardson's website seeks your input, it varies from the one designed specifically for City Council members.

For better or worse, ignorance or wisdom, these encapsulate my answers to the questionnaire given to City Council members. As you can imagine as someone who lived here before the current City Hall was built, I have some opinions.

I have no grand reason for answering the Council survey instead of the survey on the City website. Mark Steger appears to answer the questionnaire given on the City website. I saw it first and started answering it. Chalk one up for laziness! [Editor's Note: Mark Steger did comment on the City Council version. I stand corrected.]

Since I am answering the City Council version, let me make an opening comment about the City Council’s role in this.

The City Council is in complete control of this. This isn’t like paving a road, enacting a budget, or buying a fire engine. Many of those things have elements out of their control. Not so here.

The City Council is in enough control to decide among themselves the entire process. City Manager Don Magner could say, “Here is our schedule and process.” The City Council could respond, “Umm yeah. Actually, we are going to do this.” Nothing is stopping them.

They have the authority granted by citizens to do so. How this plays out is not the management’s decision but theirs. The Council does not have to sit in update meetings, throw questions out to be answered, have staff and consultants answer and nod, and then ignore them.

If they want to take charge it is up to them because they don’t look like they are in charge now. They are smart enough to be in charge, and frankly, I trust them to handle it if they do take charge. Rant Complete.

So let us begin.

1 - What are your thoughts on the current City Hall and campus? What works well that should be continued in the new City Hall, and what does not work well currently that should be changed or improved?

The entrance on the side is awkward and gives no sense of ownership or belonging. The plaza is the start of a good idea that does not go far enough. The idea of doing double duty as a civic space is a good one, but is it appropriate moving forward?

Asking this question first puts the cart before the horse, methinks. (Maybe I will have more about what questions should be asked in a later blog post.)

2 - Are there any elements of the current City Hall or campus that must be saved/incorporated into the new City Hall?

Allow me to reword the question: Is there anything in the physical design of the building and its surroundings that should be preserved?

The City Hall fountain sculpture. That does not necessarily mean the fountain and pool itself. The sculpture could be part of an entirely different fountain. I leave that up to the designers.

The Bud Biggs Richardson watercolor originally located on the second floor at the time of the fire. What has become of it? What is its condition? Even if it is damaged it should be preserved. No other original artwork expresses Richardson in its early phases of expansion. Nothing comes close.

Remarkable Richardson by Bud Biggs c. 1964

The massive Pecan tree. This is not merely an emotional attachment to a tree. Living things are symbols. As they age and even die, they have meaning. Trees in communities that live a long life are cherished as continuous living symbols of those communities. Let this be the case here!

Will it eventually die? Yes, it will. But that is part of the cycle of all things. Future residents and leaders will celebrate it as part of our community. Imagine if this tree lives another 60 or 70 years? Richardson will be over 200 years at that point. What an amazing symbol that is for future Richardsonians!

If we cut it down, that will say a lot about Richardson and what it says will not be flattering.

DO NOT give me excuses why that cannot happen. I don’t believe you. This community was part of landing men on the moon. DO NOT tell me we cannot keep one tree alive.

3 - What are the top three things you want addressed with the new City Hall?

The Public.
The Public.
The Public.

This is not an office building. This is not the City Council’s building. This isn’t my building (apart from being a member of The Public.) This is not the City Manager’s building. This is not the City Staff’s building.

This building belongs, wholly and completely, to The Public. Period.

It belongs to The People, and its design should reflect that. It is not merely a set of design elements and “requirements of the project plan” or a design that “satisfies visual preference surveys.”

Because it is the local and most intimate connection to governance, it expresses – more than any other structure – people’s connection to governance. Every thought in design, from the blocks of the sidewalks, to the doors, to the city council chambers, should reflect that.

4 - How would you approach balancing security concerns with creating a welcoming, approachable environment for stakeholders engaging with elected officials and City staff?

The world (not just this building and its surroundings) consists of private space and public space. Designers should be well aware of how to keep the administrative side comfortable, safe, and secure, as the public does not need access to an office worker in a particular department.

That said, the public facing parts – both interior and exterior – should be available to others. City Hall plazas are places of celebration. They are also places where citizens express their sacred First Amendment rights to “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

If this public exterior place does not allow for this, then it is a failure.

5 - How and in what priority should the following elements be incorporated into the design of the new City Hall and the campus?
Diversity and Inclusion
Flexibility for future needs
Provide meeting and gathering space for the public
Public Art
Richardson's History

I don’t think this way, and this list isn’t all-inclusive. Let me address a few anyway.

Diversity and Inclusion

In the words of Mitchell Silver, the first African-American President of the American Planning Association and former commissioner for the New York City Parks Department, “Diversity and Inclusion is not something you do. It is something you are.” 

Diversity and Inclusion should be built into the institutions of City Hall; not the building. If we build it into the buildings, then it is an anachronism. It is dated the instant the concrete dries. The diversity of the community was entirely different when the current City Hall was built. It will be different when the new City Hall is the same age as the old one is now. What then?

Diversity and Inclusion is not a design element.  Treating it as such lets powers that be off the hook by checking a box.

Public Art

If by public art we mean safe, plain geometric forms devoid of meaning, as we see in several Richardson public art projects, then count me out. Let’s have some that has meaning and grit. Otherwise, don’t bother.


With respect to history, I agree with Mark Steger’s opinion about a separate place to celebrate our history. That said, a space within City Hall highlighting an aspect of our history would invite people into the building and provide a way to discuss the richness of our history. Think of a rotating space that is curated. That could be a dynamic way to discuss it without locking it under glass. Interestingly it could, from time to time, showcase our diversity in rich and detailed ways in ways static displays cannot.

6 - After reviewing some inspirational images and considering how the new City Hall will aesthetically relate to the Library, what are your thoughts on the exterior architectural character of the new building?

I didn’t see any “inspirational images.” I did see the images in the survey given to the public.

The physical form of City Hall should express our values today. The thinking should start with values; not form or style. The library expressed what Richardson thought of itself in 1970, and likewise we should do the same for City Hall. (Maybe more for a future post?)

A great illustrative example is The Louvre. IM Pei’s addition to The Louvre expresses a moving forward of the values that embodied that institution at that time as opposed to trying to imitate style. Imagine The Lourve if that addition in the 1980s had simply imitated the previous style that had developed hundreds of years ago. It would appear as a hollow Disneyland imitation.

Please set aside the idea of a "bling building" as viewed from a passing car. To the extent the building should impress from the outside, it should do so at the human level. Making it look good from a passing car on Arapaho or US-75 simply tells people that we want to express ourselves for things passing by at 35 and 75 MPH and less so for the people standing before it. Is that what we want to say about our city?

Let’s not please the masses because of a preference for one style. Ask what our values are and go from there. We need the intellectual sophistication of perceptive architects to guide us. Do not let Joe and Jane Citizen (including this author) or elected officials be designers. We are not trained for it.

Architexas and its designers are smart enough to understand this. Compliment the immense symbolism and importance of our library while moving us forward into the future.

7 - After reviewing some inspirational images, what are your thoughts on the location and design of the Council Chamber? What other ideas do you have regarding the Council Chamber?

The current design places the Council at a high level above the citizen speaking. The citizen speaking has to uncomfortably raise their head to look at the council.

Symbolically, this places the Council, elected representatives, in a place of looking down upon the citizens. It creates a sense of superiority and inferiority. I have even been present where a citizen unfamiliar with the chamber noted this feeling in his comments to the Council that evening.

The Council should be at an equal level with citizens and express the idea that council and citizens are alike without a physical arrangement of superiority and inferiority.

8 - After reviewing some inspirational images, what are your thoughts on the interior spaces for the new City Hall?

The public-facing interior should not give the feel of an office park.

All official interactions should be able to be conducted in accessible locations on the first floor. If these interactions are public meetings of any kind they should be in locations equipped to record those proceedings. The days of inaccessible, hard-to-reach public meetings out of the public’s sight on any upper floor should be considered bygone days.

9 - What are your thoughts on the site plan shown during the bond education process?

Awful. It should have never been shown. I am not convinced it should be located in its present location. It is too prescriptive. As others have suggested, only a City Hall with surface parking is not a step forward. What else can we incorporate? How can we make it a Town Square?

9a - What are your thoughts about site access, parking, and building access?

I leave that to professionals other than noting that it is the People’s Building. Any arrangement that eliminates or unreasonably lessens citizens’ access to what is theirs is morally wrong.

10 - What is your vision for the Municipal Campus in the future?

Others have noted a mix of uses and not merely a City Hall, token plaza, and campus.

I agree with those comments. If City Hall is just an office building with surface parking then it does not reflect the values of this citizen. It would only reflect a by-gone era we should leave behind. I say this not just to selfishly reflect my own values but to pass on something to the citizens of our city, knowing I will not always inhabit our community and even this Earth. We should be thinking on that scale and not only for our immediate needs.

That is enough for now. Thanks for reading this far!


  1. I answered the City Council version. I've since taken the online survey intended for the public, but I haven't written about it (I doubt I will).

  2. Thanks for making your responses public. I hope Councilmembers will, too.

    The role of the Council in this process is elastic, given Richardson's council-manager form of government. It should expect to encounter pushback if it tries to usurp the City Manager's responsibility. On the other hand, the City Manager will ultmately ask the Council for approval, so the Council ought to be deeply involved in expressing what they'll need to see to get their yes vote.

    Your top three things you want addressed (The Public, The Public, The Public) is good advice for whoever is given the commission to design this. A successful design will incorporate this inspiration in everything from the view of the building from US75 to the tiles on the floor in the restrooms.

    Asking that public speakers be at the same level as the Council itself in the Council Chamber is a good suggestion. None of the suggested images the survey matches what I want, a multifunctional room. Make it so the Councilmembers desks can be removed, leaving an open stage that can be used for, say, a musical performance.

    Leaving site access, parking, and building access to the professionals is a mistake, depending on who the professionals are. Surely you have better guidance than this.