Saturday, September 7, 2013

Museum Tower and the Arts District

Though it reads like I might have, I didn't write the subject of this post. In the Dallas Morning News, Matt Lamster, the architecture critic, focuses on Museum Tower, but touches on the Arts District too. Added bonus, Lamster is a professor at my Alma Mater, UT-Arlington, which has a recognized architecture school.

The following are what I consider to be relevant points in the article.

The hot glare of contention has had the unfortunate effect of drawing attention from what is rightly the building’s fundamental flaw. Reflectivity issues, however serious, can be mitigated. But there’s no easy way to alter Museum Tower’s essential nature as a gated vertical community sequestered from the neighborhood that surrounds it.


It’s hard to imagine a less-urban urban building. Pushed back from the street grid, Museum Tower stands at a remove behind stone walls, generic landscaping and a barren, circular driveway. Think of it as an outpost of the suburban bubble dropped into the heart of the city, where it does not belong.


Just imagine what could have been: An engaging street presence with retail options to benefit the entire neighborhood, its own inhabitants included, and to encourage passage from the new deck park to the arts institutions along Flora Street.

One Arts Plaza, the gridded mixed-use tower at Flora’s northern terminus, at least makes some effort in this direction, as will a pair of towers in development along Flora, designed by Dallas-based HKS. A plan for artists’ housing on a site adjacent to Museum Tower should also improve matters. But those projects are no cure for Museum Tower, which saps vitality from the street.

On this score, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the principal victim of the tower’s reflected rays, would do well to think about its own street presence. The stone walls that shield Museum Tower were modeled on the Nasher’s own ramparts. If the Arts District wants to be something more than a bastion of privilege, it needs to come out from behind its walls.


The building was conceived as a standing sculpture, much like I.M. Pei’s landmark Fountain Place, a model for Museum Tower. But Pei’s prismatic tower is a far more rewarding form, a mutating, abstract obelisk, and it is a wonder at the street, where its signature fountains, designed by the seminal modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley, remain a great urban amenity.

Museum Tower, by way of contrast, is a rather banal stalk and offers nothing back in terms of public space.

That leads us to the barren driveway, minimally landscaped so pedestrians might have an unencumbered view of the tower’s tapering 42 stories of (brightly!) shining glass, its panels alternately fritted to add a bit of animation. That facade slips up above the roofline, smartly occluding mechanical equipment while emphasizing its verticality. The tower is far less successful at the base, where it sits on a boxy pedestal that has little relationship to the shaft, a problem that is especially acute from its dreary Pearl Street backside — too much junk in the trunk, as it were.


Museum Tower boasts all the amenities expected of a modern luxury tower and many, in addition, that seem intended more for marketing brochures than for actual residents.

Clubrooms and event spaces at ground level, meant to promote community, will see light use at best. Those same spaces should have been oriented to the street and programmed to genuinely develop a sense of shared experience. Residents might be happier with the convenience of a nice cafe or a grocer in the building — let alone a pharmacy or a dry-cleaner — and the whole area would benefit.


Such insularity is self-defeating and speaks to the building’s broader reluctance to engage with the surrounding community.

It’s one thing to have a kennel and pet-grooming station and another to have a private dog run, when Klyde Warren Park has one of its own directly across the street. Are Museum Tower residents really too precious to walk their dogs — or have their minions walk their dogs — in public? Even Jackie O. took her dogs out in Central Park.

At Museum Tower, exposure to the neighborhood is primarily visual, through the fishbowl-style floor-to-ceiling windows that have been vogue in contemporary apartment towers since Richard Meier ignited the trend in the early aughts.


It is, for example, difficult to square a building that boasts of “private estates in the sky” with any serious notion of green living. While environmentally friendly development should always be encouraged, there’s no escaping the perverse irony that Museum Tower’s theoretically sustainable facade is scorching its neighbors. That’s not sustainable, in any sense.

The only thing I would add  is the similarities of Museum Tower to the four main performance venues. Aside from the reflective glare, they suffer the same anti-urban flaws that Lamster recognizes in Museum Tower. They have unneeded setbacks, useless landscaping, single-use designs, blank walls and attention-grabbing architecture that lacks urban substance.

Lamster mentions that Museum Tower inhibits the Arts District from becoming the 24-hour vibrant community it was planned. The problem is, the Arts District itself does that already.

1 comment:

Ken Duble said...

Great post. Among the most promising new urban environments I'm seeing are at SMU Boulevard and Greenville Avenue, Citiplace West, and the new apartments at Victory Station and Farmers Market. Particularly promising are the new apartments and park planned for the West End.

The nicest touch that could help the West End, and one that would cost next to nothing, would be to stick a statue in the middle of the intersection of Ross and Market, remove the stop signs and have an enjoyable traffic circle.