Cliff is a Dallas architect whose work has been honored at the local and national levels. His background includes working with the late Dallas modernist Bud Oglesby, serving as principal with Design International, and he now has his own practice. His firm's focus is modern architecture, concentrating on residential, interiors, and small-scale commercial work. He has been a leading resource and proponent for the restoration and preservation of post-war modernism in Dallas. In addition to his practice, Cliff is the former President of the Dallas Architectural Foundation, and has taught graduate level design at the University of Texas, Arlington. He is a past Executive Board member for the Dallas Chapter AIA, served two years as Commissioner of Design, and has chaired several chapter events such as the Ken Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition, Retrospect, and Home Tours. He has also served as a design awards juror for other chapters around the state. Cliff was featured in Texas Architect as one of five young design professionals leading the way into the coming century and has been honored as Dallas American Institute of Architects' Young Architect of the Year.
Hometown: Tyler, Texas
Favorite Dallas hangout: the firepit in my backyard
AHD: How did you first get involved with Art House Dallas?
CW: Brad Reeves (Chair of the Art House Dallas board) initially contacted me on behalf of the Creative Council. He was aware of our work and felt we would be a good, creative fit for Art House Dallas. We have done some video editing and recording studios, galleries and photography studios, as well as numerous alternative work environments. His excitement and passion for this project really sparked my interest. I met with Brad, Jenny and Marissa as they described the mission behind Art House and I immediately wanted to be a part of the vision. We took a tour of Art House America in Nashville early on and it had a great soul to it. It’s rare that we get a chance to participate in such a noble endeavor.
AHD: Your design for Art House Dallas includes recording and visual arts studios, live performance space, a film and photo editing bay, writing rooms, collaboration workspaces and more. Have you ever designed, or even witnessed such a diverse space?
CW: I have been fortunate to be involved in very diverse spaces and buildings throughout my career. While they typically present some of the most challenges, they also generate opportunities for unique, creative solutions. Projects like Art House are also great opportunities for collaboration with creative, passionate individuals.
AHD: A recent award-winning design of yours is based on a 1960’s jazz tune. If Harbor Freeway at 5 PM (Jack Wilson) can become the unifying idea for a house, what should we expect as the basic concept for the Art House Dallas space?
CW: We started with the concept by centralizing the recording spaces to act as the core or nucleus of the project. In the early schemes, the music rooms were treated as sculptural elements, with unique color and form, that all of the other spaces would revolve around. The residual spaces then serve as multi-use gathering areas. Gallery space was crucial to the design. Bringing natural light deep into the building by minimizing enclosures and providing ample open space was also a critical design element. We raised the height in the “Great Room”, and created new loft space, taking advantage of the cathedral volume of the original building. The original Art House in Nashville is located within a renovated 100-year-old church in the country; maintaining it’s feeling of being “at home” was a driving factor as well.
AHD: An early sketch in one project of your portfolio outlines a challenge: “lake/downtown views vs. harsh sun”. Is there a great deal of creative problem solving in your work? What are some such problems you’ve dealt with in the Art House Dallas space?
CW: The existing space had extremely low drop-in ceilings, very little natural light due to the arrangement of rooms and corridors, and limited entry access being the third floor. We also had the challenges of designing our space above two other levels of concurrent construction for different clients with different programs that would need to be accommodated. Add to this multiple artists that will be using the space, all with different backgrounds, talents and creative agendas that need to be addressed, and a live performance space for 150-200 people that needs to function as an intimate living room between performances. Hopefully the new design has addressed all of these challenges.
AHD: Preservation is obviously important to your work. Of course Dallasites tend to demolish mature structures, replacing them with bigger (though not always better) ones. How does Dallas rank when it comes to architectural history and preservation?
CW: We’re getting there. Dallas has some incredible examples of preservation, adaptive re-use and restoration; unfortunately, we have lost some significant buildings along the way as well. At one time downtown had seven major Universities, a thriving Theater district, automotive showrooms, etc. There was a photo documentary written entitled “Dallas Rediscovered” that provides excellent insight into the character of our city in the late 19th, early 20th century. Two classic pieces of modern architecture that are currently endangered are the 1956 Statler Hilton by Architect William Tabler, and the adjacent 1955 Dallas Public Library by George Dahl.
AHD: What are some of your favorite designs in the area?
CW: I have an affinity for Dallas’ collection of classic modern homes by regional and international architects, predecessors, and peers. Larger scale projects include the Nasher, Federal Reserve Building, Republic Tower, Northpark Center, 1950’s Industrial & Office Buildings, most of the new major works in the Arts District–including the new Museum of Nature and Science–and, of course, the Modern and Kimbell in my home town of Fort Worth. If we expand design to include art outside of architecture, one of my favorite pieces is Robert Irwin’s “Slice” that serves as an urban portal into downtown.
AHD: Like any artist, coming up with the plan for your next great project doesn’t always mean you get to see it through to completion. Do you have any dream projects in your queue, and if so, what are they?
CW: I have been very blessed; all of our projects have the potential to be “dream projects”. We work directly with those who will inhabit and experience the spaces on a daily basis, and have the unique opportunity to influence people’s lives through architecture. Restoring the two endangered buildings mentioned above to their original glory would be on the dream project list as well. The ultimate “dream project” would be one with an unlimited budget, ultimate creative license, and no changes. Perhaps one day.
AHD: A certain masked character seems to find his way into a few of your portfolio snapshots, are you particularly fond of The Lone Ranger?
CW: I hadn’t really thought about it until now (assuming you are referencing the images that show up on the televisions on a few projects on our website). Let’s see, you get to ride around in the Old West, cook over an open fire, sleep under the stars, and the good guys always triumph over the bad guys. What’s not to love? Maybe there’s an underlying correlation between the Lone Ranger and being a sole practioner fighting for something of substance in a disposable society…only Freud would know.
AHD: How can we follow your work and keep up with future projects at Welch Architecture?