Preston & Royal Fill-Out: A Study in Pinpoint Urbanism

personal projects, essay
Dallas, 2019 - 2020

Along a particular spine called Preston Road, on the wealthy side of Dallas lies a series of over a dozen retail-focused intersections that provides something resembling local, public identity (Fig. 1). The intersections took shape over time, from the beginning of white flight to present day. The Preston Road development model has been stamped throughout the region, often establishing geometric patterns that ripple through the surrounding suburban streets.

It is important for me to note here that none of this is novel, because intersections have always established public identity; and none of this makes Dallas special or unique, because a plethora of cities on flat landscapes don’t respond to natural features, instead adhering to a grid. But in the exquisite domain of the banal, those who have a heart for the city must demand strong place-making.

This study focuses mostly on a single shopping center at the intersection of Preston Rd and Royal Ln. It explores the idea of restamping the whole network of intersections with a new development pattern that can achieve greater functionality and rise to meet contemporary values of density, diversity, and publicness.

Dallas - A City Both Local & Global

Dallas has been stuck between local pride and the desire to be global since the 50s. In 1958, an engineer at Texas Instruments invented the integrated circuit, a development that, over time, fueled a wave of economic growth through the region and  gave the economy of Dallas a more diverse base that included technology as well as oil. At this time, architect O’Neil Ford was hired to design the Texas Instruments Semiconductor Building in partnership with renowned Mexican architect/engineer Felix Candela (Bosse). The integrated circuit placed Dallas on a world stage and this building marked the rise of the city’s international infatuation. Oil had brought to Dallas the money to achieve global notice; now, with technology, the city also welcomed international influence.

O’Neil Ford himself had a tidal wave of influence on Texas’ design culture over the last 70 years, where his lasting impact has been the spreading of spores of former employees

focused on the localization of modernism for Texas climate and culture. He essentially was John Lautner for Texas but remains largely forgotten by comparison. The resource shift is vital to understanding the contemporary culture of the region. Today, high profile design commissions go to the international architects which have created the highest density of buildings by Pritzker Prize winning architects in the world (Capps). All the while, local firms often struggle to make their big break, working on large numbers of single family homes while failing to break into cultural and mixed-use work. The regionalist work like Cunningham Architects’ Cistercian Abbey (Fig. 2) is incredibly resonant architecture that exemplifies the local tradition and materials. These local materials are brought together to dramatize the harsh Texas sun across their surfaces through delicate separation. The Dallas of today is increasingly characterized by the extravagant place-making of Klyde Warren Park, which has sparked an incredible renewal of collective interest in the urban experience. Neighboring developments bring local artists like Brad Oldham to the landscapes of James Burnett (Fig. 5): moments of localness set within a more global landscape.

     The global vs local tension continues, most recently in the debate over the future of a 200-acre, urban park straddling the Trinity River. Michael van Valkenburgh’s proposed and city-backed design for the massive river floodway (Fig. 3) sits beneath 3 Santiago Calatrava bridges (Fig. 4) and adheres to very little formal geometry of the region. Formally, the design is quite non-natural, taking loose inspiration perhaps from the overlaid maps of the Mississippi. This light reference to the region (albeit 5 hours away) is quite reductive and shows the lack of knowledge of actual local qualities. The proposed design is filled with programmed space that will generate value by offering paid activities and consumables. Studies for local planting seem to powder the design with a local sugar; but the larger scale moves (including the intention of function) are merely “Local Architecture Lite”, far more focused on creating a globally recognized park and gentrification generator than on creating a delicious pastry wholly from its place. This design attempts to be positioned as locally global. In so doing, perhaps it successfully echoes the modern increasingly global identity of the city.  

Local landscape architect  Kevin Sloan finds MVVA’s design wanting. Sloan has proposed to rewild that same, urban land (Sloan). In doing so, he has become the most vocal person regarding the rewilding movement in the entire country. His unsanctioned proposal suggests a heavy lean on unprogrammed land. Wild grasses rather than trimmed lawns, birding pavilions instead of skate parks. Essentially a design similar to MVVA’s own project of the gardens at the George W Bush Presidential center a few miles north from the Trinity River area. This is the two sides of the same Dallas challenge coin: Side 1 - the markings to build a park that would become a showpiece of Dallas’ global ambition, designed by a New Yorker; 2 - the markings of a local tone to create a place focused on the roots of the area, attempting to bring back the landscape and wildlife before humans were even there. Both contemporary in their ideologies, these two sides of the coin challenge Dallas to build a better city with each new construction. The city is seemingly at a crossroads.

As in many American cities, the disparity of wealth in Dallas is perpetuated by the lack of connectivity found in public transit. The wealthy Dallasites in the area of focus will never give up their pools, their manicured lawns, or their cars.  Even if they were willing, mass destruction of the single family homes would be wildly wasteful. The particular kind of luxury lifestyle of most streets in this area is enabled by low density and very constrained access to outsiders and the classes of people who can’t afford to live there. Extravagant homes surrounded by non-native plants line streets without sidewalks. Community is kept to a minimum; “freedom” of the residents reigns as the supreme value. Use-wise, the area is much like what Charles Moore described about 1966 Los Angeles: “houses are separate and private, it has been pointed out: islands, alongside which are more of the automobiles that take the inhabitants off to other places.”

Preston and Royal

Preston Royal Village was originally opened in 1958 with a ribbon cutting by the Mayor of Dallas (Preston Hollow Advocate). At that time, the shopping center occupied about one quarter of the land at the intersection today. Soon after opening, a second quarter was acquired and opened. The remaining half of the shopping at this intersection South of the East/West street has never been incorporated under the moniker Preston Royal Village and in the attempted replication of the center, any sort of character that the original shops had was progressively lost. The original architecture reflected the promise of this new modern way of life: a center of gravity for the neighboring suburbs away from the stifling downtown. The buildings had a googie-style application of local materials: yellow brick, gold columns, white screens, and white concrete structural rhythms. There was a singularity to the original

design: a single movie house with a single theater (Fig. 6), a single delicatessen, a single soda shop, an Indian themed steakhouse (Fig. 7), a men’s suit retailer, a sewing shop, a fire station, a cobbler, etc. In other words, it had exactly one of everything that any resident might need. Despite its modern architecture, this development relied on the more traditional neighborhood relationship to products and services. Because of this (among other forces of sensibility), the modern style buildings were torn down and plastered over. Pastiche begets pastiche - 62 years later the original design has nearly been completely removed save for some specialty moments. From five-and-dime to national organic grocery chain, from soda shop to fine dining, staying power has been hard to come by in this landscape. A handful of retailers have remained in operation but are architecturally unrecognizable from their origins. The structures that remain visible are a bank building probably by O’Neil Ford himself (Fig. 8) and an original neon sign for the intersection (Fig. 9).

     Each corner of this intersection is a 615’ square - this square is truncated on the Northeast and Southeast corners, a forgotten move that graciously acted as a gateway for the neighborhood to access the retail. For reference, each of these corners could fit 4 square-blocks of the first grid laid in Dallas by John Neely Bryan in 1850, the total would yield 16 of those blocks. The total usable ground area is 1.45 million square feet (calculated by not including the intersecting arterial roads and adjoining sidewalks). Of the usable ground area, 63% of the area is dedicated to surface parking. Of the remaining 37% of the usable ground floor that makes up the retail space, a scant 6% has a second floor (Fig. 10).

     Describing the current condition a “strip mall” would be too generous because it would indicate some sort of surprise provided by the architecture. Quite the contrary is true: it’s so bland and predictable that it is forgettable.

Despite its lack of architectural gravitas, the intersection is wildly prosperous. Yet it is under-serving the neighborhood and city. It is located near the geographic center of some of the most expensive land in the state of Texas. It sees 70k cars cross its pavement each day, and the average household income within 1 mile is over $260k (Edens). Given those metrics, profitability is almost assured. Some say the shopping center is plagued by its own popularity, due to insufficient parking. Recently, a reporter at Dallas’ D Magazine went so far as suggesting a limitation on the number of restaurants permitted because of the lack of available parking spots (Nichols).

A single bus line runs North/South through the intersection; and during peak times there’s 30 min between buses. Public transit in Dallas is quite ambitious, but rarely fully serves crucial neighborhoods, effectively promoting class segregation.

In 2019, a tornado tore through the intersection, ripping asunder the lite-roofed retail and scattering the mature trees across the parking lots.

Pinpoint Urbanism

Given this urban canvas, I propose a strategy of development that I call Pinpoint Urbanism: creating a highly dense, intensely urban environment on a relatively small land area, surrounded by existing, low-density, single-family homes. The proposal finds opportunity in land currently being underutilized as surface parking that supports retail. Pinpoint urbanism upscales the land with minimal impact to the existing retail, working to maintain the conveniences of strip malls while creating more retail and diverse experiences. In Dallas, this type of opportunity occurs at intersections that already sit typically within a 30 min walk of one another. Upscaling each of them would create a tapestry of singular urban, higher density nodes connected by arterial roads surrounded by suburban-style neighborhoods. 

In order for urban architecture and higher density to succeed in this setting, it has to do two things: it must create a silver bullet that the surroundings can feel collective admiration for, and it must advance ADU-style land uses of granny pads and small offices for the surrounding homes. It has to be exceptional in its localness; a destination in itself, because it is such a good representation of the area. I see this concept as a next step to the ideas of Everyday Urbanism, using strategically placed interventions that at some point integrate a new understanding of the city as a network, which eventually transforms how it is experienced entirely. Each intersection is to be considered independently so as to reinforce the hyper local qualities.

In the following 9 steps, I have identified the methods of this radical intervention that would be specifically suited for the intersection at Preston and Royal, and all across Dallas:

Step 1 - Improve Public Transit Options

The most important part of this proposal is the introduction of an express-lane bus service. The daily gridlock of traffic in Dallas at present is enough to warrant this alone, but adding a high density development at this intersection would make it a necessity. This step orients the intersection as a Transit Oriented Development.

Step 2 - Incentivize Promoting Income Diversity for Existing Neighborhood

Raise the property taxes in the city but promote ADUs by adding tax breaks.  The raised taxes should go to bolstering the public transit  to the area as well as public amenities like maintenance of public space.

Step 3 - Bury a Level of Parking

The ground currently commanded by parking must yield a single submerged level of parking in phases so that the current retail maintains the minimum requirements to remain open. An angled row of short term parking spots at the ground level should be introduced fronting the new retail given to the development.

Step 4 - Create a Network of Pedestrian-Only Paths

Pedestrian paths will combat the strength of the car and create a diversity of experience. At Preston and Royal, diagonal pedestrian streets should be introduced building off of the chamfered corners mentioned previously, restoring the original concept of gateway to the intersection and restoring a relationship of fluidity with the surrounding neighborhoods.

Step 5 - Enclose a Substantial Public Space

Provide perimeter for a shapely public space that commands the intersection with a collective identity. This concept of public space borrows heavily from the Italian tradition. In the spirit of singularity found in pinpoint urbanism, it is vital that the pedestrian be at the center of this space.

Step 6 - Introduce Public Institutions

In order to foster community beyond retail, I have introduced an institute that celebrates the exceptional nature of ALL citizens in the form of a public Public Library. Relocating the nearby Preston Royal Public Library - which is currently located ½ mile away from the actual intersection and in need of additional space - to the intersection further sets a tone for the publicness of this development.

Step 7 - Plant New Retail on Top of Parking Level

New, high-quality retail set on top of the parking could yield 50% additional area surrounding a rich public space experience. This retail should serve the everyday user through the introduction of delis and bodegas, a typology unseen in the area. This retail could also include an updated idea about gas stations, wherein they are included at the rear of the development - away from the hustle of the intersection - yet still in the quick, drive-in drive-out style. No gas station should be located at the center of an intersection.

Step 8 - Stack Office and Residential Functions on Top of New Retail

Up to 8 stories of new, mixed use would be pushed towards the center of the development so as to minimize visual impact from the surrounding streets. The residential components would have accommodations for varied incomes.

Step 9 - Rebuild Retail to Utilize Roofscape as Urban Farmland

8 acres of usable farmland could be introduced on top of the existing retail. This would allow existing or future retailers to make money off of their roofs as well as provide greywater and stormwater use within the development. Greenhouses would accommodate varying planting styles.

Dallas needs to be comfortable with who they are in order to attract the global world that they think they deserve; a sort of globalness born from a focus on itself, rather than the mere pursuit of internationalism. There’s nothing more Dallas-like than the ambitious, local, silver-bullet-style development that includes high-end retail with both local and global brands. As a response to these stereotypes, I am proposing this Pinpoint Urbanism to provide the specific qualities of density, diversity and publicness. By employing these tactics, I am positioning this project for success specifically in this city, and challenging the classist and racist heritage of the area.

Systematically filling out these intersections throughout the region would further materialize a new identity for Dallas; an identity built from the current city, exceptional in its responsiveness to local conditions, sustenance of diversity, and promotion of public life.

Works Cited
“A Browse Down Memory Lane - Preston Hollow.” 2002. Preston Hollow. August 1, 2002.

Bosse, Paula. 2014. “The Hyperbolic Paraboloids of the Prairie | Flashback : Dallas.” Flashback : Dallas. April 15, 2014.

Capps, Kriston. 2015. “For the Best U.S. Architecture Per Square Mile, Head to Dallas.” Bloomberg. Bloomberg. February 2, 2015.

Clausen, Leah. “Preston Royal Shopping Center Sign.” DMagazine, 17 July 2017,

Google, "Streetview," digital images, Google Maps (, photograph of 10830 Preston Rd, Dallas, Texas, taken December 2020.

Johnson, K. 2018, “Cistercian Abbey”. [photograph] (Kent Johnson’s own private collection)

Johnson, K. 2018, “Park District”. [photograph] (Kent Johnson’s own private collection)

Johnson, K. 2018, “Trinity River”. [photograph] (Kent Johnson’s own private collection)

Moore, Charles W. 2004. You Have to Pay for the Public Life. MIT Press.

Nichols, Nancy. 2017. “Are There Too Many Restaurants in Preston Royal Village? - D Magazine.” D Magazine. July 17, 2017.

“Preston Royal, Dallas TX | EDENS.” n.d. EDENS. Accessed December 12, 2020.

Sloan, Kevin. 2020. “How Rewilding Available Land in Dallas Could Make Us Happier, Healthier and Wealthier.” Dallas News. The Dallas Morning News. January 12, 2020.

Unknown. “Preston Royal Theatre.” Cinema Treasures, 28 May 2012,

Unknown. “Safari Postcard.” Flashback Dallas, 22 Apr. 2014,

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