Field Studies in Real Estate students seek to breathe new life into vacant industrial complex

In Dallas, a real estate developer and his colleagues are grappling with the perplexing question of how to revitalize a sprawling, vacant industrial complex. On December 16th, students in Professor Richard Peiser’s Field Studies in Real Estate course at the Harvard Graduate School of Design offered these professionals support by presenting a number of innovative ideas for the site.

Three student groups studied the Chance Vaught Aircraft Plant, which is a sprawling manufacturing complex located on the outskirts of Dallas. During the 1940s, the plant produced P-51 fighters and B-24 bombers in just two buildings, but the complex expanded to 315 acres in the 1950s and 1960s in response to strong US military demand. The forces of demilitarization and deindustrialization led to the plant’s gradual closure from the 1970s and forward. Today, the site sits vacant.

Each of the three groups approached the site from a different perspective. Matthew Ciccotti (MDes ’15), Andy Cantu (MUP ’15), Feng Shen (MAUD ’15), and Xueshi Wang (MDes ’16) envisioned the site as “Heritage Park,” a mixed-use development that entwines its industrial history with new office, residential, and retail uses. One of the group’s design proposals that conveys this character is a road network that ensures that most visitors to the complex enter by passing between two industrial buildings. Said Ciccotti, “We want to put 21st-century manufacturing on display.” The team envisions accomplishing this by suggesting that one of the industrial buildings includes a steel and glass façade that leaves its interior operations visible to passersby.  

The second redevelopment proposal, called “Dallas Local,” was created by Virginia Keesler (MUP ’15), Zongye Lee (MDes), Roma Patel (MDes ’16), and Rodrigo Senties (MDes ’16). According to Keesler, the proposal “seeks to capitalize on the economic strengths of the Dallas metro area.” Significantly, the site has access to high-quality transportation assets. Extending a railway spur to the site would augment this advantage. The proposal incorporates vocational development through inclusion of a school. Said Senties, “We want to have an urban setting that is alive twenty-four hours a day.” A number of the proposal’s features, including an amphitheatre, kayaking, and cultural programming, promote this vision. 

The final proposal created by the class, “Dallas Global,” is rooted in consideration of how automobiles impact the lived experience in Dallas. Said Aaron Locke (MDes ’15), “Cars are how you experience the site and Dallas.” Referencing an aircraft hanger that the students saw during a site visit, Locke continued, “One of the most exciting element of visiting the site was driving through a building.” Locke and his partners Leeor Maciborski (MDes ’15), and David Pearson (MArch II ’15) sought to integrate the vehicular experience by organizing the site into a series of “runways.” One runway could, for instance, be used to test drive cars sold at auto dealerships. Vitality could also be generated within the site through a cluster of carwashes. Said Maciborski, “[We thought:] what are the activities with a car that actually enliven the urban experience?” These features help to provide the foundation for a dynamic, mixed-use development that includes new housing typologies, as well as additional retail space.

In the coming months, the Chance Vaught Aircraft Plant’s developer and other stakeholders will consider how the research and concepts generated by these GSD students can support the project.