Modernizing the Iconic Williams Square Plaza
Forty years after its original construction, the City of Irving, Texas, invested in revitalizing a valued business hub and cultural center: Williams Square Plaza. Built in the 1980s and primarily comprised of pink granite pavers, the City’s vision for the renovated square included much more greenery, seating, and even an outdoor concert space—an inviting destination for tourists, residents, and employees alike.
“It’s a whole new generation, and how they view this is so different,” says Mayor of Irving, Rick Stopfer. “They don’t look at it as this big monument you drive up to and just take a picture. They want a great plaza to play with their kids and really enjoy everything that is there.”
To reimagine this meaningful community center, the City of Irving partnered with SWA Group and Structure Tone Southwest on the redesign and transformation.
Designed by sculptor Robert Glenn, the Mustangs of Las Colinas are the centerpiece of Williams Square Plaza and have become one of the top tourist destinations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The nine-horse sculpture was designed and installed over a period of eight years and serves as a reminder of the free-spirited Las Colinas landscape.
Completed in 1984, the sculpture has weathered over the years. The copper material had patinaed over time, leaving the horses a greenish hue rather than their original bronze. Part of the Williams Square Plaza renovation was refinishing these iconic mustangs—each of which is 1.5 times the size of a life-sized horse. To ensure the integrity of the sculpture was maintained, the project team and the artisans working on the horses held video calls with Glenn regularly—and at some points in the project, even daily. The process included carefully sandblasting the sculpture’s surface to reveal the original bronze, rewelding any holes that had appeared over time, and a final cleaning to finish.
The significance of this restoration was not lost on the Structure Tone team. “The mustang is the focal point of the City of Irving’s logo,” says David Horner, Structure Tone Southwest project executive. “Refurbishing the Mustangs of Las Colinas almost felt like recreating history.”
Another piece of the puzzle was the total modernization of the 1980s-era fountain that runs below the sculpture. Small jets angled up around each horse’s hoof and lining the sides and bottom help create the illusion of a flowing stream. The upgrade began with replacing the plumbing lines—switching from copper to high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe which won’t rupture, freeze, or break. Next, the team converted all the original lights to LED lights. And finally, the out-of-date, single-valve fountain controls were retired and replaced with a more sophisticated computer system. Glenn was also consulted during this part of the process to ensure the new and improved fountain jets were installed at the exact angles as the originals.
On top of the overwhelming task of restoring the beloved Mustangs of Las Colinas, this project called for meticulous attention to detail and some unconventional problem-solving.
1. Relocating the irreplaceable. Like all great attractions, Williams Square Plaza is marked by a substantial sign. Composed of four granite blocks weighing 45,000lbs each, the sign is built with the same pink granite as the plaza’s pavers, which were mined from a now closed quarry in Marble Falls, Texas. The renovation called for the stone to be moved 10ft south, and each block needed to be lifted separately. “These blocks were sitting in the elements for 40 years, so there was concern that they might be brittle,” says Britt McKinney, senior superintendent at Structure Tone. “We made sure to use the right chokers, the right rigging, and installed protective corner guards before the 600-ton crane made the first lift.” Thanks to the team’s diligence, all four lifts were completed smoothly with no damage.
2. Complex logistics. Site logistics posed another challenge. The fountain feature dissects Williams Square diagonally, making it impossible to transfer materials from one side of the plaza to the other. Complicating matters further, an existing tunnel ran parallel with the site below the sidewalk between O’Connor Blvd and the plaza. The only way to access the plaza from O’Connor Blvd with heavy equipment was over two areas on the east and west ends of the tunnels—each of which were 25ft wide and structurally reinforced to handle the loads entering the plaza over the top of the tunnel.
The limited access points, and the lack of mobility the team had to move materials within the site, dictated their approach to scheduling. “We had to build in a manner that wouldn’t paint us into a corner when it came to pouring the concrete, building the plaza, and building the elevated platform that looks out onto the mustangs from above,” McKinney says. “We had to phase the project and time our material deliveries very carefully.”
3. River bottom construction. Irving is known to have river bottom soil, and an initial geotechnical report showed that the dirt on-site had the possibility of moving between 6–8 inches in either direction depending on its moisture levels. To ensure the soil didn’t shift the landscape after the greenery was installed 8-10ft down, Structure Tone encased the existing dirt with a polyurea pond liner and added drains. This allows any water that hits the landscaping to percolate into the existing soil and fall to a drain below where it is converted to stormwater—avoiding the landscaped soil completely. “We basically built our own terrarium,” says McKinney.
COMING FULL CIRCLE
Completed on time, the revitalized Williams Square Plaza reopened to the public in May 2022 to glowing responses. At the reopening celebration, Irving Mayor Rick Stopfer commented, It’s just amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish here through the partnerships to rebuild the plaza and refurbish the mustangs.” Even sculptor Robert Glenn commented from overseas, saying, “What they’ve done, the amount of work is just phenomenal and I’m very happy about the way they’ve gone about it.”
The City of Irving’s project team was also pleased with the result and how the project unfolded along the way. “Structure Tone Southwest was proactive in their approach to executing the work, mindful of the tight schedule and also creative in resolving issues which arose during the construction of the project,” says Casey Tate, special project manager for the City of Irving. “Through their diligent and thorough efforts, we were able to complete the project within the budget and on schedule.”
For many of the design and construction team members, the Williams Square Plaza reopening felt like a full-circle moment. “I grew up going on field trips in the metroplex and we used to eat lunch in the plaza by the horses,” McKinney says. “To be able to go back and re-engineer this project was pretty cool.”
Location: Irving, TX
Size: 2.1 acres
Client: City of Irving
Architect: SWA Group
Completed: May 2022