News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Harlan Crow's American Experiment Honors Civil Debate

Bill Zeeble
Welcome to the inner sanctum, Harlan Crow's eliptical oak debate room at the lower level of the new Pavilion on the Old Parkland campus.

Arlington has JerryWorld. Dallas gets – well, let’s call it DebatePlex. It’s called The American Experiment, and it's a brand new complex dedicated to debate -- the high school and college competition for brainiacs.   

Harlan Crow moved his family’s construction and real estate business to the old Parkland Hospital campus off Maple Avenue nine years ago because he loved the classic, dark ruby brick building.

He’s since added non-profit and commercial tenants. The newest buildings are faithful to early American, Jeffersonian architecture of oak, brick and marble. Crow’s company builds a lot of modern structures, but he loves this style.

“I wouldn’t want the whole city to be -- whole world -- to be like this,” Crow says. "But neither do I want the whole world to be reflective glass and chrome.”

Crow calls this part of the campus The American Experiment. Statues of de Tocqueville, Ben Franklin and others mix with Greek columns and engraved ancient Roman and Greek quotes.

They reflect ideas behind the nation’s birth.

Authenticity matters, architect Ed McGonigle says. He points to domes atop Parkland Hall and the Pavilion, the debate building.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Parkland Hall, one of several new buildings on the Old Parkland Hospital campus. It makes up part of Harlan Crow's American Experiment that celebrates America's founding ideas.

“The copper came from Germany,” McGonigle says. “We had to find a German craftsman that understood craftsmanship of a copper dome and how to install that.”

He says the hand-made North Carolina brick had to be sourced from nearby river clay to obtain that warm look.

“It took us a couple months to find them,” McGonigle says. “Once we found them, we went through approximately 60 4-by-4 brick mock-ups of different brick combinations, mortar colors, to get the exact right ones for this campus.”

High school and university debates will be in the elliptical, oak inner sanctum that can hold nearly 200. Crow wants that room, these new buildings and the young people who’ll use them, to celebrate the values that founded the country. Sometimes, he says, we lose touch.

“Civil discourse is critical and anybody that’s paying attention knows that the discourse that’s happening in society today is not very civil,” Crow says. “So the notion of debate on any topic is really important but it’s equally important that it be done in a way that celebrates good manners between fellow Americans.”

Invited guests – on their good, civil behavior - are seeing the new Crow complex this week. The next group of top debaters will occupy the inner sanctum after the new year. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.