As another sweltering summer begins, Dallas’ Nasher Sculpture Center continues to bake under the harsh reflections of the neighboring 42-story Museum Tower. The problematic glares, sunspots, and rising temperatures in the galleries and gardens came to a head last spring, but despite many efforts, it doesn’t look like a resolution is coming anytime soon.
Designed by Renzo Piano and Peter Walker, the Nasher is located in the heart of the city’s Arts District and has provided an anchor for the area’s successful growth. Banking on this attraction, the Museum Tower, designed by Los Angeles-based architect Scott Johnson, was constructed in the Nasher’s backyard, noting views of the gardens as a selling point for the high-end condos. The tower, which is owned by the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, is clad in Viracon 1-38 panels. The glazing is 44 percent reflective and unabashedly violates a 1998 covenant established by Raymond D. Nasher, which called for any nearby development to adhere to reflectivity standards of no more than 15 percent. The covenant expired in 2008, but Nasher representatives argue that the glazing is still in violation of an additional agreement that nearby buildings would not exceed 35 percent reflectivity.
“In 2011, we thought that James Turrell’s decision to close Tending, (Blue) due to the invasive view of the tower in the skyspace aperture was our biggest problem, but it was only the beginning,” said Jill Magnuson, director of external affairs at the Nasher Sculpture Center. Temporary scrims now help to partially diffuse the intense daylight in the interior gallery spaces, and the gardens require unusually excessive replacement, maintenance, and watering. Temperatures in the sunspots range from 10 to 25 degrees higher than in other areas of the garden. “We are highly concerned about the trees; the long term effects could be irreparable,” said Magnuson. She noted that the immediate effect of the light and heat is visible in the lawn, which has needed to be repeatedly re-seeded and re-sodded during the course of the spring.
Mediation efforts that began last year have resulted in a stalemate. The Museum Tower team wants to rebuild the Nasher roof, noting it as the only solution that will completely address the problem. (They have deemed any louvered system that could be installed on the tower as ineffective in eliminating the reflections.) The Nasher representatives are calling for a solution that resolves the glare issues not only in their interior galleries, but also in the gardens and the Arts District as a whole. “Diffused natural light is essential to the experience of the Nasher,” noted Magnuson. “Altering our roof, however, is only a partial solution to a complicated problem. We are confident there is a solution, but we are also positive that the solution begins with fixing the Museum Tower rather than our roof.”
The Museum Tower released a well-packaged public proposal for the reconstruction of the Nasher roof on June 13. The proposal calls for reconstructing the existing cast-aluminum ocular sunscreen and creating a new sunshade with apertures constructed of elongated fins rotated 45 degrees west of north. The existing shade structure is composed of oculi that face due north.
It floats above a barrel-vaulted glass ceiling anchored on narrow steel ribs supported by thin steel rods. It was designed for easy maintenance and has a walkable surface. Nasher representatives argue that the new roof proposal will dramatically reduce both the amount of daylight in the galleries and accessibility for cleaning. Peter Walker himself responded that the solution was inadequate and failed to recognize the long-term effects on the gardens and the neighborhood. The Nasher will celebrate its tenth anniversary in November. If things continue as they are, one can only hope for cloudy days during the festivities.