The James Pratt Collection

About

About James Pratt

James Pratt was born in Stamford, Texas on March 25, 1927. His parents, James Reece Pratt and Margaret Barret Pratt, were in the second graduating class at Southern Methodist University. His mother was voted most popular girl and named president of the senior class. When James Pratt was four years old, his family moved to Fort Worth where his father, a banker, worked under Texas businessman and politician Jesse H. Jones at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), established during the Hoover Administration to combat the ill effects of the Great Depression. The Pratt family then moved to San Angelo for work, and in 1935 James Reece Pratt died suddenly of leukemia. Margaret Pratt promptly moved her son to University Park in Dallas where James would grow up. At the age of 12, a trip to the San Francisco Fair in 1939 helped shape Pratt’s view of the world and foreshadowed his future architectural consulting for the State Fair of Texas.

Pratt was a member of a dance band in high school that played at venues all over Dallas. Sources of musical entertainment dwindled in the city as young men over the age of 18 were shipped off to war, granting the band frequent gigs wherever and whenever. After graduating high school in 1945 and attending the University of Texas in Austin for a year, Pratt joined the Navy where his major duties involved shipping troops back home from the Pacific. He returned to UT and graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1950.

Pratt gained an architect’s license in 1952 and spent several months supervising construction projects in the Texas towns of Dublin and Hamilton and a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He decided to pursue a masters degree and was admitted to Harvard where he met four design masters: Alfred Roth, Kay Fisker, I.M. Pei, and O’Neil Ford. These architects remained important sources of inspiration in his later design work. Earning his Masters of Architecture in 1953, Pratt boarded an Italian cargo ship in New York and spent 18 days sailing to Naples. After stops around Italy, Pratt arrived in Zurich where Alfred Roth had secured him the opportunity to live in the attic of architecture critic Siegfried Giedion’s home while working at the Haefeli Moser Steiger firm (HMS) on designs of a proton synchrotron and synchrocyclotron for CERN in Geneva. Pratt spent weekends in Strasburg, Ulm, Stutgardt, Paris, Venice, Barcelona, and Andalucía before returning to Dallas in 1956.

Broad and Nelson, with whom Pratt worked during and after college, offered him a job upon arrival. James Pratt and Hal Box, the late Texas architect, academician, and classmate at UT, worked together on expanding the Mercantile Bank. The duo earned a national and international prize for their work and decided to form a partnership with Philip Henderson, an alumnus of Eero Saarinen’s firm, which would allow Pratt to travel and study while the new firm worked on projects domestically. Pratt made his first study trip to Japan for three months in 1962 to analyze garden design. In 1965 American architect and urban planner Edmund Bacon invited him to a conference on urban design at the American Academy in Rome. Trips to Egypt, Greece, and the Turkish coast would follow, including a month in Persia in 1970. Despite further trips to Afghanistan, India, Finland, Russia, Cambodia, China, Tunisia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and the Galapagos, the city of Rome would remain one of Pratt’s most beloved destinations.

Pratt, Box, and Henderson’s urban design work began with a “Study of Downtown Dallas” in 1957, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Dallas Planning Council, and the Dallas Museum of Art. A similar study on the expansion of the state capitol government buildings was put together two years later. The firm consulted for the State Fair of Texas for seven years, connected Fair Park to downtown and the Dallas Convention Center, planned trade marketplaces for Trammell Crow in Dallas, London, Taipei, and Cairo, built and planned hotels in Vanuatu, Fiji, and Samoa, and constructed six off-campus student housing projects for colleges in the western US. Willis Winters, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, once recognized Pratt, Box, and Henderson as “one of Dallas’ greatest design firms.”

Mr. Pratt is retired and currently lives with his wife, Joanne Henderson Pratt, in New Mexico.

Since 1957, Pratt served in a variety of leadership positions in the community as well as the architectural circles in which he was tirelessly devoted to maintaining and improving. He was the founder and director of Dallas Visions for Community; president and chairman of committees for the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA); member of the board and executive committee for The Science Place; trustee of the Dallas Historical Society, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and the North Texas Educational Foundation (KERA); board member of the Dallas County Save Open Space Board, responsible for the purchase of land under County Bond funds; and a member of the HUD Comprehensive Housing Affordability Survey Advisory Committee. As president of the Dallas AIA Chapter in 1969, Pratt became a founder of the Urban Design Advisory Committee, a multidisciplinary professional group advising the Dallas City Manager composed of architects, landscape architects, and city planners. Pratt remained a chairman of the UDAC for a decade.

James Pratt was one of Dallas’ most visionary architects. While he is primarily known for the many structures he designed and built, Pratt’s contributions to the city of Dallas extend far beyond the tangible. He believed urban design and city planning could mitigate racial and income disparities, ultimately unifying a severed city. His advocacy for centricity, which involved populating a struggling downtown, worked to reverse Dallas’s trend toward urban sprawl. His ideas for the Trinity River Corridor and “Dream Lake” on the western edge of downtown expressed a dire need for the marriage of concrete and grass, trees and steel. He promoted urbanization inclusive of nature, if not secondary to it. He never saw Dallas as it was, preferring visions of future developments instead, ten, twenty, fifty years away. His legacy lives on in the improvements that Dallas has decided to make over the years and in the glaring weaknesses that plague the city to this day, problems that Pratt was addressing decades ago.

Pratt’s major contributions to his firm’s portfolio and the Dallas area include the Quadrangle shopping center in Uptown, Brookhaven College, the Olla Podrida marketplace, and the Apparel Mart, which would be used as a shooting location for the science fiction film Logan’s Run in 1976. Pratt was in charge of the conservation and restoration of the 1893 Dallas County Courthouse, the completion of the $10 million Exposition Plaza in honor of the state’s 150th birthday, the conservation of the Bryan Cabin, and led his firm in the restoration of the Federal Reserve Bank façade.

Pratt’s remarkable St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite, TX has garnered much recognition for its uniqueness in the area and for its homages to the legendary Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier and his early post-modern masterpiece, Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, completed in the mid-1950s on a verdant hill overlooking Ronchamp, France. The St. Stephen church is a fulfillment of and, in several ways, an improvement upon Le Corbusier’s notions of postmodern design. Among Pratt’s finest and most puzzling successes with the structure is the ever-changing form it assumes as one circumnavigates its bleached walls made of a poly-vinyl-chloride product called “Archilithics.”

Keen on visualizing the landscape around Dallas prior to urbanization as well as understanding some of its first permanent residents, Pratt searched for traces of European influence in the area, discovering and publishing much on the 19th century settlement known as La Reunion. Adventurous and idealistic French, Belgian, and Swiss Fourierists, named after the French philosopher Charles Fourier, would attempt to build a society at La Reunion mirroring Fourier’s ideal social, economic, and political structures. Pratt amassed a trove of data on some 600 Fourierists who raised $400,000 in Europe and came to the Three Forks of the Trinity River in 1854. Among other publications on various design subjects, Pratt was the co-author of The Prairie’s Yield (1962), Environmental Encounter (1979), and author of Dallas Visions for Community (1992).

Pratt is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and in his lifetime received over 30 local, state, national, and international design and technical awards.