The New York Times recently ran an interesting- and heartbreaking- story about the unintended consequences of architecture.
The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, designed by architect Renzo Piano, was supposed to be a boon to the Dallas Arts District, housing one of the world’s leading collections of Modern and contemporary sculpture. Despite being aggressively courted by other cities, real estate mogul Raymond D. Nasher decided to build and personally finance the $70 million center in Dallas, the city in which he made his fortune. The sculpture center was widely considered to be a beautiful building and stunning success, so appealing that developers began construction on an upscale building of condos across the street, Museum Tower.
While supporters of the Dallas Arts District were pleased to see the economic revitalization of the neighborhood, the condos soon proved to be a mistake. The glass walls of Museum Tower concentrate and reflect so much light that the garden and art works of the museum are at risk.
The magnified reflection of light has raised the temperature in the sculpture garden so high that the specially planted oak trees and grass are suffering, not to mention the effect on the museum itself. The intense light streaming into the galleries causes equally intense and distorting light patterns and glare. The light in certain areas is so intense that works had to be removed from display, including Picasso’s “Nude Man and Woman.” Understandably, Piano is furious.
Unfortunately, the condo developers and the museum are now in a stalemate over who should make the necessary modifications to protect the Nasher. Museum Tower could install a solar shading system that would dramatically decrease the glare, but such a system would be costly.
A similar situation occurred in Los Angeles when Frank Gehry’s stainless steel-clad Disney Concert Hall created an uncomfortably bright reflection of sunlight right into the homes of a neighboring apartment building. Gehry was eventually forced to sandblast portions of the structure to reduce the glare.
The MGM Mirage also dealt with a tricky glare situation, dubbed “the death ray” by employees. The magnification of sunlight on the building caused heat so strong it melted plastic cups and newspaper bags!
It’s a shame that the condo building is causing such problems for the museum, but hopefully they will be able to come to a suitable compromise soon. As Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings told the Times, “He [Nasher] gave a tremendous gift to the city, a gift we’ve got to be good stewards of.”
So what do you think about this situation? At Leslie Saul & Associates, our Boston architecture firm thinks the function of a building is just as important as the form. Obviously architects want to design beautiful structures, but did the aesthetics of these buildings get in the way of practical concerns? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!