Concrete Landscape Design
Jim Burnett is the grand humanizer of Dallas' concrete jungle.
The 55-year-old is best known worldwide as the landscape architect of Klyde Warren Park. But he's also created visions of greenery throughout Uptown and the Arts District and was part of the team that produced the outdoor master plan for Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Burnett will be given one of the American Society of Landscape Architects' most prestigious honors, its Design Medal, at its annual meeting this fall in New Orleans.
Gentle and soft-spoken, Burnett uses terms like "design ethos" with second-nature ease.
He says he's happy to report that Dallas developers have a much better mindset than they did in the go-go days of the 1980s. Back then, building design was all about "adding a set piece of sculpture on the skyline."
For one thing, now there's actually landscaping and streetscaping.
"People are concerned with the first 25 feet [of height] now, " Burnett says. "There's a strong commitment to setting the building back a bit, creating some open space and making a landscape with shade and water places to take a break."
His latest addition to a more peaceable Dallas kingdom is a 1-acre oasis on Olive Street that's part of Crescent Real Estate's McKinney & Olive, a 20-story, mixed-use development slated to open Aug. 15.
To the north, Burnett and his team are working on Toyota's North American headquarters in Plano and State Farm's regional campus in Richardson.
Toyota wanted a sustainable, contained campus that "does the right thing" for the property and creates a back-to-nature environment for its employees.
The focal points of State Farm's CityLine campus are a centrally located plaza and gardens where employees can gather for meetings, or work in solitude outdoors.
The insurance giant also wanted to create an urban feel in suburbia that tied into DART's light-rail system. "They don't make cars like Toyota does. So maybe that's why, " Burnett says.
"Different models. Both noble approaches."
Across the U.S.
As landscape architects, he and his team design the outdoor spaces and do site engineering to determine the topography and environmental issues.
Since starting his company in Houston in 1989, he's branched out into projects across the country.
He relocated his family of four and the company's main office to a suburb of San Diego in 2002, using the excuse that he needed to tend a multitude of California projects. "Everybody knew what I was really doing — trying to beat the heat and the hustle and bustle of Houston."
His firm currently employs 60 professionals in Solana Beach, Calif., Boston and Houston. But Burnett spends a great deal of time in Dallas as his projects continue to mount. In the last 15 years, he figures he's done $5 million in design work in Dallas and its surroundings.
"Most importantly, we're the artists who create the beauty and the magic of places where people get outdoors, " Burnett says. "Nature rejuvenates, heals and restores."
He'll tell you that his impact in the world of landscaping really began with a field trip to the Nasher Sculpture Center in spring of 2002.
Burnett was working with Crescent Real Estate Equities LLC on its Ritz-Carlton hotel. John Zogg, Crescent's managing director, and a small entourage decided to walk from the Ritz's vacant lot to the 70 percent complete Nasher for a hard-hat tour.
That meant walking across the rickety Harwood Street bridge over Woodall Rodgers Freeway along a 4-foot sidewalk as 18-wheelers and cars screamed by underneath. The group looked like the Beatles crossing Abbey Road.
Zogg yelled to Burnett, asking if he thought people would walk from the hotel to the garden when it opened.
"I yelled back, 'There's no way. There's no shade. This big gap is overwhelming. They're going to take a car or get a cab to go four blocks. It just won't happen, ' " Burnett recalls. "He said, 'Why don't we cover it up and put a top over it. And you can turn it into something — a building or a park. Could you do that?'
"I said, 'Sure. I'm not an engineer, but it looks like it's almost set up to receive a lid.' That's where Klyde Warren began."
Zogg and his boss, John Goff, hired Burnett to study the idea, draw a plan and make a model that was presented to Uptown and downtown movers-and-shakers at a Crescent Club cocktail party in the fall of 2002.