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From Bauhaus to Jerry Jones’ House

Last week, I visited The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ training and practice facility, which opened in 2017 in Frisco, TX, about an hour west of their stadium in Arlington. Dubbed a "Football Oz" last year by the Dallas Morning News, The Star is certainly impressively looking, filled with Cowboys memorabilia, ranging from reproductions of their uniforms throughout the years, to their five Super Bowl trophies. It also has two side-by-side practice fields (with space to park Jerry Jones’ helicopter between them) -- one with grass, the other with artificial turf. Back inside, there's a film room so big, you expect George C. Scott in Cinerama as General Patton to come bounding out to give a speech at the podium, not the Cowboys’ unassuming head coach Jason Garrett.

The Star's film room. George C. Scott as Patton, not included.

Everything looks dazzling, but as with most things Cowboys, it’s also an exercise in maximum hype. As Skip Bayless wrote in God’s Coach, his 1990 profile of Tom Landry, during the 1970s, the Cowboys practiced in infinitely more primitive conditions:

I won’t forget the first time I saw this facility, which was a twenty-minute drive from the team’s classy tower offices, north on Greenville Avenue, and east on Forest Lane to Abrams. The practice field was squeezed between a faded apartment complex and a Pizza Hut. Across busy Forest Lane was a shopping center that featured a Tom Thumb grocery store, where many players grabbed lunch of fried chicken at the deli. Could it be? America’s Team resided in a one-story prefab of rippled aluminum siding painted light blue. Butch Johnson called it “a roach-infested tent.” It was like walking into a discarded dollhouse full of giant humans. Everything was incredibly cramped and poorly lit. Naked egos and light bulbs. Lots of Dallas high school teams had a more spacious training, meeting, and equipment room. At six-feet-nine, Ed “Too Tall” Jones appeared to walk with a stoop.

Somehow, despite, as Mr. Spock would say, those “stone knives and bearskins” level facilities, Landry’s teams went to 10 NFC Championships, leading to five Super Bowls (they won two). Flash-forward to 2017, when Architectural Digest ran its “exclusive first-look at the [Cowboys’] state-of-the-art $1.5 billion mega-complex.” It began thusly:

“This wasn’t about dressing up the locker room,” says Charlotte Jones Anderson, daughter of Jerry Jones and the EVP and chief brand officer of her father's prized Dallas Cowboys. “This was about establishing a connection with high school football and the community that could not be replicated. Sometimes, even in religion, you need the bricks and mortar to validate the why.”

Interesting word in that context, “religion.”

How America's Team Became German Socialist Worker Housing's Most Famous Tenant.

To anyone with a modicum of architectural knowledge, what’s really fascinating are the looks of The Star’s exteriors. They’re an update of Mies van der Rohe’s modernism, which became the dominant form of American corporate architecture after WWII and until the mid-to-late 1970s.

In the 1920s, Mies, after dalliances with Berlin socialist groups such as the Novembergruppe, ultimately became the last director of the highly influential Bauhaus design school in 1930, until the National Socialists shuttered it in 1933. As with numerous German artists and intellectuals, he fled to America in the 1930s. As Tom Wolfe wrote in 1981’s From Bauhaus to Our House, Mies, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, and other ex-Bauhauslers became academia’s equivalent of “The White Gods! Come from the skies at last!” (Just don’t look too closely at what they were saying before leaving Germany.) And after WWII, their most devoted new worshippers in America adopted the International Style with religious zealotry:

Among the architecture students in the universities the International Style was all you heard about. Enthusiasm had been building up ever since the pilgrims had returned from Europe and the Museum of Modern Art began touting the compound architects. When the white gods suddenly arrived, enthusiasm became conversion, in the religious sense. There was a zeal about it that went quite beyond the ordinary passions of aesthetic taste. It was the esoteric, hierophantic fervor of the compound that seized them all. “Henceforth, the divinity of art and the authority of taste reside here with us …” The university architecture departments themselves became the American version of the compounds. Here was an approach to architecture that turned the American architect from a purveyor to a bond salesman to an engineer of the soul.

While Walter Gropius was obsessed with what Wolfe described as minimalist worker housing in the immediate post-WWI era, Mies was obsessed with skyscrapers and tall commercial buildings. A drawing of a gleaming, all-glass-skinned skyscraper on the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin put him on Germany’s avant-garde map in 1921. In 1928, Mies did some sketches for a Berlin department store exterior remodel. It was never built, but Mies would refer back endlessly to its design after WWII, when, as Chicago’s preeminent architect, he would build such tall buildings as the 860-880 Lakeshore Drive apartments and Manhattan’s Seagram Building, both of which were robotically cloned by large architectural firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Tom Wolfe described the repetitious Mies-inspired office buildings along New York’s Avenue of the Americas as the “Rue de Regret.…Row after Mies van der row of glass boxes. Worker housing pitched up fifty stories high.”

As America’s elder statesman of modernism in the 1960s, Mies was a consultant to several mixed use “superblock” designs in Chicago, Detroit, and Canada, whose appearances aren't very far removed from the combination of offices and shops that Jerry Jones completed two years ago in Frisco.

Mies died in 1969, and much of postmodern architecture in the 1970s and ‘80s was a reaction to his minimalism. Yet here we are a century after the founding of the Bauhaus in 1919, and, as Wolfe wrote in From Bauhaus to Our House, their ultra-non-bourgeois worker housing is still the dominant form of American corporate architecture. To the point where the most famous tenant residing in German worker housing calls itself America’s Team. The Nazis didn’t conquer America – but the Weimar Republic certainly did.

Your humble narrator at the press conference room's podium, auditioning to be Jason Garrett's replacement. The similarity of the author's hat in the right-hand corner to one of Tom Landry's many fedoras is purely coincidental.