Meda Kessler 2017-02-19 23:41:55
Be it a rural or urban project, architecture plays a major role in our lives. Paul Dennehy wants to get the “words” just right. The Story Teller Paul Dennehy near the site of the Tandy Hills Natural Area Pavilion. His firm’s design was chosen as the winner from among 20 design proposals submitted for the hilltop prairie. The rendering for the Tandy Hills project, shows its teepee-like design.f Paul Dennehy believes architects have a story to tell when it comes to their work in general and in Texas and Fort Worth in particular. He is doing a lot these days to help others tell their stories. He stays busy traveling the state as president of the 7,200-member Texas Society of Architects (TxA), which is based in Austin. In between road trips in a black pickup truck, Paul takes time out of his hectic schedule to grab lunch at Fred’s TCU, a bonus of having an office within walking distance of the casual burger joint. There we talk about life and work and love and loss. “I was born in Oak Cliff and later worked in Dallas, but my heart has long been in Fort Worth,” says Paul. Paul worked in Dallas before starting Fort Worth-based Dennehy Architects in 1993 with wife Sandy, whom he met while attending the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington in the late ’70s. Paul went from UTA to earn his master of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but he returned to Fort Worth and married Sandy in 1987 in Fort Worth’s Botanic Garden. They detoured to Hong Kong to work on I.M. Pei’s Bank of China project together and toured as much of Asia as possible. In Fort Worth, their work goals and ideals meshed with their personal lives. They sought to become part of the community they lived in by making a difference aesthetically as architects and also in positive ways that impacted others. Notable work includes the Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods and the Ella Mae Gratts Shamblee Library, two municipal buildings that expanded the reach of city services to Fort Worth’s Southside. “We structured our business on certain principals,” says Paul, “and I learned a lot from Sandy about advocating for your beliefs.” Sandy passed away in 2014, but her spirit obviously remains with Paul. It’s a lesson that Paul has taken to heart as TxA president, chair of several TxA committees and past president of the Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The Ella Mae Gratts Shamblee Library design incorporates a 1930s-era school building in a historic neighborhood context. Photo courtesy of Dennehy Architects “We have to communicate who we are as architects and why our roles are critical in everything from preservation to new development.” Paul believes their mission also includes encouraging women and minorities to be part of the architecture community to ensure the growth of their profession. He has been racking up the miles in visiting all 17 TxA chapters — big and small — around the state. “While we’ve been fairly recession-proof here in North Texas, things are different around the U.S., so we should consider ourselves lucky for that.” Paul acknowledges that Fort Worth is not well known for modern design in residential and commercial projects, but he sees barriers to forward thinking slowly breaking down, thanks to award-winning work of such architects as Bart Shaw and Norman Ward. His own three-person firm has learned to “punch beyond our weight” and go after bigger projects. Dennehy Architects recently won the Tandy Hills Natural Area Pavilion Competition with a contemporary teepee-inspired design that celebrates the surrounding parkland just east of downtown Fort Worth, while serving as a gathering space with panoramic views east and west. The Hazel Harvey Peace Center for Neighborhoods has played a vital role in the redevelopment of the Southside’s inner-city neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Dennehy Architects “Houses are such personal projects, so these community-oriented designs can be fun to do,” says Paul, who with co-workers Dennis Chiessa and Donald Gatzke are the design team of the winning site-specific plan, which now awaits funding. Dennehy Architects also has been working on the new boardwalk at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, a highly anticipated project for the center’s many visitors. Paul’s love of wide-open spaces is no surprise, as he owns a place in Alpine. While work keeps him mostly tethered to the city, he escapes when he can. “Every time I visit, I can’t seem to stop smiling.”
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