The architecture critic at the Dallas Morning News from 1983 to 2006, Dillon died suddenly this morning at his home in Massachusetts of an apparent heart attack. He was 68. His death comes as a shock because David had managed to beat an earlier bout with cancer.
North Texas was extremely fortunate a) to have a designated architecture critic at all for a leading newspaper (even before the media downturn, they were rare) and b) to have a critic of his caliber and national reputation. From my arrival at the News three years after David, he was one of the paper’s arts writers whose work I always admired, always enjoyed. It was thoughtful, considered, sometimes stylish and droll. I always learned something from him.
In office meetings with editors and bosses, David could be depended upon to see beyond our immediate grievances or management’s latest favorite half-baked theory and ask the question that made the rest of us stop and get a glimpse of the long view.
Dillon had an MA and Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a Loeb Fellow at its graduate design school in the late ’80s. He was the author of several books, including The Architecture of O’Neil Ford and The Cowboys Stadium: Art & Architecture. He was a contributing editor of Architectural Record. After taking a buyout from the News in 2006, Dillon continued to write and lecture and even worked as a design consultant for what became the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
He also returned to North Texas to write the occasional ‘special contribution’ — like his last appearance in the paper on March 28, a tart dismissal of Sammons Park, the inadequate greenspace under the wing of the Winspear Opera House. (” ‘We needed a French landscape architect for this?’ is how one baffled visitor put it.”) And there was this from the Architectural Record on the George Bush Presidential Library:
The selection of Robert A.M. Stern to design the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University does not surprise Dillon. “It was a foregone conclusion that there was not going to be any adventurous architecture—Gehry or Libeskind, no way,” he says. “It’s a conservative institution with a very conservative architectural culture. The list of firms considered was farcical—there was not a great deal of interest or expectation among Texas architects that they would want that job or even get that job.”
The last time we met — in late 2008 — David and I were part of a panel at the Nasher Sculpture Center with Veletta Lill, discussing the future of the Arts District. As ever, I learned a lot listening to him, sparring with him. We went for drinks afterwards and he invited me to visit him sometime in Massachusetts.
I never got the chance.
- Scott Cantrell’s obituary for the News
- Architectural Record interview with Dillon in 2008 — one of six critics around the country evaluating the architecture in their area.
- Unfair Park
Local filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza have graciously shared these clips of Dillon from Stop the Presses, their 2006 documentary about the newspaper industry.