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Thanks-Giving Square

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1977, Philip Johnson/John Burgee; 1998 expanded and renovated, Philip Johnson. Pacific Ave. at Ervay St.

Philip Johnson was well established in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston when he was asked by local businessman Peter Stewart to design a public place of ecumenical worship in Dallas. Stewart’s Thanks-Giving Square Foundation acquired a narrow, triangular block on Pacific Avenue, a result of the grid-shift in the city plats. After conducting an international search for an architect, including visits with Kenzo Tange, Luis Barragan, and I. M. Pei, Stewart turned to Johnson as most able to interpret his desired symbolism of universality.

Johnson deeply inscribed the three-acre site, which had been cleared of older buildings, with angular pathways bordered by low retaining walls that act as continuous seats. Water channels, pools, and a cascade are miniature features recalling Johnson’s Water Gardens (FW16) in Fort Worth completed three years earlier. At the western acute angle of the square, a concrete armature holds three bells, inscribed to carry the message of gratitude and thanksgiving espoused by Stewart: “God loves us, we love God, we serve God singing.” The eastern focus of the square is a helical concrete chapel, a white spiral standing in contrast to the backdrop of the gray aluminum facade of Republic Bank (DS31). The somewhat diminutive scale of the chapel within the context of surrounding high-rises is countered by the dramatic interior of the ninety-foot-tall structure. Between the upward spirals, a continuous coiling ceiling of bright, colored glass defies spatial perception, symbolizing infinity and the universalism of the patron’s concept.

Johnson’s biographers Franz Schulze and Frank Welch note his turn toward historicism in the mid-1970s. Both mention the spiral minaret of the ninth-century Great Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, which was a graphic embodiment of an ascending circle, a form Stewart interpreted as symbolizing gratitude.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


What's Nearby


Gerald Moorhead et al., "Thanks-Giving Square", [Dallas, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019, 151-153.

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