The telephone exchange boards may be gone but The Exchange food hall continues to thrive as a venue that inspires communication and collaboration. Once home to a 1970s-era telecommunications call center, a 26,700-square-foot space has been transformed into a vibrant food hall that anchors the recently completed AT&T Discovery District in Dallas.
Designed by Cooper Carry, in partnership with Gensler as the architect for the exterior build and The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry overseeing the interiors, the reimagination of the space was part of the larger redevelopment of AT&T’s 2.5 million- square-foot headquarters into a mixed-use, entertainment-filled, food-driven experience for AT&T employees and the downtown Dallas community.
From Call Center to Food Hall
Delivered last spring, The Exchange is a 16-stall food hall spanning two levels owned by AT&T and managed by Hospitality Alliance. The Johnson Studio transformed the dated call center into a new-age destination for casual diners and foodies alike. As part of the adaptive-reuse project, the Gensler team reskinned the outer building with a sleek glass material and introduced two outdoor patios that span both levels of the food hall. Inside the food hall, a reimagined design unfolds, pulling from the area’s surroundings and the unique offerings of the namesake corporation.
Opening more than a decade after the initial food-hall frenzy, The Exchange offers a look into the future of the dining model, where chef-driven menus, an enhanced focus on hospitality, and elevated dining and bar design become standard. This higher-end, hospitality-infused approach to the dining experience could be referred to as a “culinary collective,” a term that describes an environment where diverse culinary concepts come together to provide guests with an exceptional dining experience.
In designing Dallas’ first true culinary collective, Cooper Carry sought to integrate flexibility, efficiency and variety through different atmospheres and moods across the two levels, seamless indoor and outdoor spaces, and customizable vendor spaces to provide AT&T employees and local residents with a distinct neighborhood destination.
Designing Spaces within Spaces
With interiors designed by The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry, The Exchange takes on a residential, human-scale approach across the two-level space. Throughout the food hall’s large area—encompassing 700 seats, two bars, 20 individual vendors, a dedicated to-go and pick-up area, and a private dining room that also functions as an event space—the design team was intentional about creating zones and neighborhoods within the collective to help break down the scale and provide guests with a sense of orientation.
The first level of The Exchange functions as a collaborative space, where the hustle and bustle is most compatible. Vendor operators are stationed on this level, sporting colorful exteriors that invite guests to explore new cuisines. A well-stocked craft-beer bar offers seating where office workers can grab a coffee during the day or locals can linger over cocktails with friends. Ample table and seating arrangements fill the vast square footage, allowing for lively brainstorming sessions or off-site meetings.
Drawing from the building’s former use as a telecommunications data center, the design team incorporated an exchange board-inspired custom lighting fixture that runs across the ceiling of the first level, as well as makes an appearance on the second floor. To connect both floors, The Johnson Studio strategically placed a walnut-clad staircase adjacent to the craft-beer bar on the first floor to lead visitors to the more muted activity located on the second level.
Upon accessing the second floor, visitors will find a lounge-style design that appeals to daytime workers looking for a quieter place to get work done, as well as those looking for a more upscale, high-end environment for nights out. Within the area’s various nooks and crannies, clusters of soft seating create private environments that contrast with the more dynamic and bustling activity of the ground floor. This warm and spacious environment is accented by walnut tones and bronze metals that create a polished, upscale aesthetic. Expansive windows offer views to the surrounding district and flood the second floor with sunlight by day, before the space transitions to a moodier atmosphere by night.
Situated above an existing auditorium, the design of the food hall required several unique solutions to accommodate for both uses, including plumbing, electricity and a sound barrier. By raising a defined area of flooring by 20 inches, The Johnson Studio created a unique opportunity for an elevated dining platform. Named “The Yard,” this indoor, porch-like area is reminiscent of a backyard atmosphere with a sound-absorbing trellis and allows for an intriguing sightline over the action happening in vendor stalls.
PHOTOS: MICHAEL STAVARIDIS
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