A Day at CallisonRTKL Dallas: Tools of the Trade

Located in the heart of the city, CallisonRTKL (formerly RTKL) Dallas was in need of an upgrade to match the rapid revitalization efforts of Downtown and the Arts District. A phased renovation focused on letting in natural light and views, and a “tools of the trade” theme added extra graphic interest.

Due to the size of the office, the design team (based out of CallisonRTKL’s Washington, D.C., office) implemented a phased renovation, first focusing on the public areas. Phase One (completed in 2014) included 15,000 sq. ft. of conference and collaboration space. From the street-level lobby to the conference center and commons area at the heart of the office, the design focused on both innovation and creating an inspiring environment for staff, clients and visitors. It was reconfigured for openness and access to daylight and views, previously hindered by the original fit-out of the space.

A recurring theme in CallisonRTKL offices is an integral graphics program based on the "tools of the trade." In the Dallas office, architectural and engineering measuring scales are featured, starting with a white-on-white interior lobby mural that mixes rulers in architectural and engineering scales.

“The idea was that we are an AE firm made up of individuals, but in the end we are all in it together as a team,” says Jill Popowich, associate vice president and project manager on the design team. “I’ve always been interested in installations that have interest and hidden surprises on both a macro and micro level. From a distance, it is a nice pattern and texture. Up close, you can read the number on the scales and you get what they are.”

A monumental curved stairway is left over from the office’s original use as a bank, and another remnant from the bank days is the curved gold-leaf bulkhead/handrail at the second floor. The elevator was added when CallisonRTKL originally moved into the space, but was previously part of an enclosed gallery space. By removing the enclosure, the design team was able to bring in much more light and leveraged the vertical mass to create another super-scaled design tool: a double ruler that features metric measurements on one side and imperial on the other.

“We often find ourselves counting the ceiling tiles to get a sense of how big something is, so we saw this monolithic structure as a great opportunity to put scale in perspective,” notes Popowich. “We thought it seemed like a great learning tool for young designers and a point of reference for seasoned professionals.”

Another feature of the lobby space is a custom map rug (a signature in many CallisonRTKL offices) showing the roads around Dallas and the office called out as a red dot in the middle of the map. A printed-vinyl mural in the heights of the atrium lobby proclaims the firm’s unofficial motto: “It starts with an idea.” 

“As designers, it’s our job to turn those ideas into something great,” says Popowich. The image itself was from a Works in Progress submission called “RE-FLEX” by a group from the Dallas office. Popowich’s team took the line art from their parametric design (which they had fabricated three-dimensionally) to use as the graphic. The same graphic manifests itself in a few variations across the office.

Phase Two of the renovation, including 50,000 sq. ft. of office and support space, was completed in July 2015.


Graphics: Thom McKay (senior vice president), Jill Popowich (project manager, senior designer), Megan Sanchez (designer)

Interior Design: Neal Hudson (project manager, senior designer); Corcoran Canfield, Nate Ferrance, Kate Herman (designers)

Architecture Team: Dean Battle (project manager), Mary Hibbs (designer), Kristina Livingston (office manager), Dylana Wilson (administrator)

Fabrication: Design Communications Ltd. (graphics), Designtex/Loophouse (rug)

Photos: Charles Davis Smith

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