Controversy Surrounds Dallas’ Museum Tower

by Tim Rogers
D Magazine

When the Nasher Sculpture Center began leaking light in September, director Jeremy Strick didn’t immediately grasp the gravity of the situation. In the lobby near the cash register, just a few small splotches of light splashed across a travertine wall.

The leak should have been impossible. The Nasher was designed by Renzo Piano, arguably the world’s greatest modernist architect, a man famous for reinventing the roof. For the Nasher, he created an ingenious system composed of two parts: a barrel-vaulted roof-cum-ceiling made of 3-inch-thick, 1,200-pound glass panels and, suspended above the glass, a sunscreen of millions of tiny aluminum oculi aimed due north. The sunscreen was designed using the precise longitude and latitude of the Nasher, and it accounts for every hour of the Earth’s 365-day trip around the Sun. Standing in the gallery, a visitor looking up and to the south sees what appears to be a solid structure through the glass ceiling. Turning 180 degrees and looking north, though, he sees open sky. The system allows into the museum soft, full-spectrum light that is not only safe for artwork but creates ideal, transcendent viewing conditions. The roof system is patented, and Ray Nasher, who died in 2007, considered it part of the art collection that he gave to Dallas.

Strick saw the light hitting the lobby wall and looked north. Instead of open sky, he saw the new Museum Tower, where construction workers were installing glass panels on the lower levels of the 42-story building. Sunlight was reflecting off that glass and penetrating Piano’s roof. Nasher staffers took pictures of the light splotches and talked among themselves about whether they might affect an upcoming exhibit, but no one was ready to sound the alarm.

Then, on a Monday late in the month, the situation turned dire. Workers across the street had been busy over the weekend, having installed glass up to the 23rd floor. Around 2 o’clock, the Sun swung into position and left Strick speechless. Harsh reflections off Museum Tower now flooded the gallery, casting shadows off Rodin’s The Age of Bronze and endangering paintings. A canvas by Picasso, Nude Man and Woman, had to be moved immediately.

Strick called Dan Boeckman, one of Museum Tower’s four developers. Over the months of construction, Strick had called Boeckman a few times to complain about minor nuisances, trash or cement slurry, for instance, finding its way from the construction site to the Nasher’s garden.

“Jeremy, I don’t know if I want to take your calls,” Boeckman said playfully.

“This one is really serious,” Strick said.

In the following months, the problem grew more serious. As Museum Tower’s glass facade expanded, its reflections began to cook plants in the Nasher’s garden. A study commissioned by the Nasher shows that reflected light is affecting not just the Nasher but also the Dallas Museum of Art, Hunt Oil Tower, and the soon-to-open Klyde Warren Park over Woodall Rodgers. The first two have dealt with the assault by drawing blinds; it remains to be seen how the park, which is closer to Museum Tower, will fare.

How did this happen? How could someone build a $200 million project in the Arts District that is in the process of destroying the very museum it uses in its marketing materials to sell million-dollar condos? Did no one stop to think?

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