With One Art Barn Down, Plans At Another Texas University Alarm Preservationists

With One Art Barn Down, Plans At Another Texas University Alarm Preservationists

UT Dallas Art Barn (Courtesy of Mark Lamster)
UT Dallas Art Barn. (Courtesy Mark Lamster)

It’s a bad year to be an Art Barn. Only two weeks after Rice University demolished its beloved structure, UT Dallas announced plans to close down its own Art Barn, with its exact fate remaining unclear. Architecture critic Mark Lamster, among others, voiced speculation over the building’s shutdown and possible removal from UT Dallas’ campus.

Rice University’s now-demolished Art Barn (Courtesy Rice University)

It’s almost the same sad love story at UT Dallas as it was at Rice. Big university meets small time building, and over time the two form something of a beautiful relationship. But as special as both are to the other, the building as a whole simply could not carry on with the weight of the times. Not only is the structure drastically behind in safety codes, renovations would cost millions—more money than the university has deemed practical, especially considering its original building cost of $26 per square foot.

Preservationists have come to the aid of the building, but like last time, calls for preservation might not be able make up for decades of slippage in upkeep. Indeed, UT Dallas already opened a $60 million Arts and Technology Center last year.

The Art Barn was designed by Lawrence Wood in 1976. With its white siding, slanting roof, and atypical outline, it paid formal homage to Rice University’ Art Barn. Functionally it fulfilled similar duties. The “modern” architecture was a breath of fresh air among the tried-and-true brick buildings on campus, and it flourished as both an art space and a campus icon throughout the years.

The Art Barn owes it singular charm to architect Lawrence Wood and his collaborations with UT Dallas’ art faculty. They strove for a space that would create “an ideal environment for the making and study of art by the people who would actually be using the facility,” explained former arts department chair George Holman. The interior studio and gallery spaces are arranged into open “commons” that allow for a flow between students’ work and display.

Although the building’s exact fate remains uncertain, it is true that administrators have already initiated the process of closing down the facility. Bringing the Art Barn up to speed would require at least $4 million—a sum that President Daniel deemed “not a responsible choice.” He has not made any official decisions on the building’s decommissioning, although he did state that any replacements would respect the Art Barn’s original architecture.

The Art Barn’s interior work space (Courtesy Mark Lamster)