Creating an amazing building can be a complicated dance of considerations, as aesthetic and practical concerns are hardly ever perfectly aligned. Even re-markable buildings designed by eminent architects may have serious or unforeseen flaws that are only revealed as plans are executed. In 2011, as construction workers began to erect the glass components of Museum Tower in Dallas, the building’s neighbors found themselves with a new problem—shining as bright as the sun.
Designed by Scott Johnson, FAIA, of Johnson Fain in Los Angeles, the Museum Tower is a thoroughly modern marvel of glass and steel, rising 560-feet above Dallas’s blossoming Arts District. Reminiscent of John Burgee and Philip Johnson’s famous Lipstick Building at 53rd and Third Avenue in New York (for which Scott Johnson served as Design Associate), Museum Tower has an elliptical shape, cutting a stark figure against the sky.
Museum Tower is white and blue and brilliant, with a subtle convex curve to its façade. It juts out from the surrounding green space, surrounded by trees and a lush terrace level that includes a great lawn, an 80-foot pool, and a Zen garden. Modeled after the classic form of a Doric column, the figure nonetheless has a decidedly contemporary look, a welcome respite from the era of the postmodern skyscraper. Glass sails envelop the structure and fly above the roof, while crescent balconies jut out from its endpoints, providing panoramic views of Dallas to the building’s residents. It’s an ambitious and risky project, at $200 million and 125 units, funded by the notoriously aggressive investing of the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System.
The apartments themselves are luxury affairs, appointed with 12-foot ceilings and every conceivable amenity. The building offers nine-floor plans, from a 2417 sq. ft. apartment to a 9369 sq. ft. full-floor penthouse. Furthermore, for the interiors, residents have three designer home options to choose from – conceived by Emily Summers, Ann Schooler, and Marco French – running from traditional to contemporary.
As elegant as the building is, the real sell is its location: it’s a stone’s throw from Dallas’s premier cultural institutions—including the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Dallas Museum of Art, and Klyde Warren Park, making the apartments ideal homes for Dallas’s growing class of art aficionados, foodies, and socialites. It is yet another push in Dallas’s bid to attain world-class status, a jewel in the crown of the arts district—which is the nation’s largest at 68 acres and 19 contiguous blocks.
Unfortunately, Museum Tower’s proximity to the best of Dallas’s art scene, coupled with its ambitious design, has produced a logistical and public relations headache. Overshadowing the accomplishment of the building and dominating the conversation surrounding the skyscraper has been the focus on the glare generated by the 42-story building’s windows. The south-facing glass acts as a mirror, reflecting Dallas’s harsh sun—much to the chagrin of the building’s neighbors.
The Nasher Sculpture Center, which sits adjacent to Museum Tower, has complained that the focused, reflected glare from the building has put some of its pieces at risk of damage, both in the exterior garden and in the center itself. A particular issue is that the roof of the Nasher, a cast aluminum sun-screen designed by Renzo Piano to maximize solar harmony, is, by all rights, itself a work of art with a patent-pending. The collection’s riches include works by Degas, Rodin, and Picasso.
Others claim that the reflective rays are scorching nearby grasses and plants. The ensuing conflict has inspired breathless David-and-Goliath philippics in the press. Museum Tower even caught the nickname “The Towering Inferno” in one magazine profile. One can not help but recall the coverage of the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, whose own magnified rays proved problematic to the hotel’s pool-goers and earned the nickname of “the Death Ray” when it started melting cups and burning hair.
While Museum Tower is not in violation of any codes, the light problem stresses the game of contingencies that comes with bold design. While Museum Tower is within its rights, and while the Nasher may have anticipated future development when it opted for a roof that allowed for maximal light penetration, one must always account for public opinion when working on such a large scale.
Various solutions are being considered, from louvers on the Tower’s windows to realigning the Nasher’s roof. This writer thinks a good solution would be a light-absorbent, tensile fabric structure between the Nasher and Museum Tower that would itself be sculptural and protect the Nasher from the glare of the Tower’s glass. Understandably, both parties are fighting for the option least intrusive to their own institution’s architectural integrity. Whatever the outcome to the Museum Tower light issue is, the fix is unlikely to be cheap. With hundreds of millions of pension dollars on the line, we can expect a fight in the years to come.
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