For the past two years, the US city of Dallas has been locked in a debate over a new class of buildings that have lovingly become known as architectural death rays. In Dallas’s case, it’s a shard of light reflected off a hastily-built condo tower that has killed plants and ruined art at the nearby Nasher Sculpture Center. Now, an architect is proposing a 5295sqm shade.
First, a bit of backstory. The Nasher is one of Dallas’s most-loved buildings: In the 10 years since it opened, the Renzo Piano-designed building has catalysed the development of a whole new neighbourhood and a handful of massive new performing arts centres. It’s become so popular, in fact, that other buildings have borrowed it to brand themselves, like “Museum Tower”, a 42-storey apartment tower that rose adjacent to the Nasher this year.
Ironically, Museum Tower is the very thing now ruining the Nasher. It began the day the tower was tall enough to catch the bright Dallas sun, which reflected off the double-curved surface of the tower, right onto the Nasher down below. The Nasher’s eggshell crate roof is carefully designed to filter sunlight and create the perfect viewing conditions for the priceless works inside — but you can have too much of a good thing.
The artificial beam of Texas sunlight now focused directly on the museum has singed the bamboo that once grew along the low facade. It has raised the temperature significantly. It has even begun to threaten art: James Turrell has pronounced his Skyspace piece in the Nasher’s garden “ruined”, and it has since been closed.
Picture: ThunderKiss Photography
From afar, it seems like an easy fix. Why not just — as other death-ray towers have done — add some shading louvres to the tower, or frit the glass panels in question? The developers of the tower, the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System (or more specifically, its board), have spent the past year arguing that it would be too expensive and too challenging to retrofit the facade.
Instead, the DPFPS proposed rebuilding the roof of the Nasher. When that plan went up in flames (har har), they waged a despicable PR war against the Nasher, creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to broadcast support for their plan. They also hired a group of designers to study the feasibility of installing a gigantic shading system to block the rays, rather than fixing the problem at the source.
It looks complex, but the concept is actually very simple: The team looked at the annual path of the “death ray” and, based on its coordinates, created a huge shading system to block it as it changes. To lessen the presence of the shade, they also devised a series of umbrella-like devices that only open up when needed. So, for most of the year, these devices look like thin tubes strung up on a massive metal frame — which is better than an opaque surface… I guess?
But what would be even better is not having to build a gigantic, permanent shading device at all. Besides, this solution will leave the Nasher in shadow, rather than glare — which isn’t really fixing the problem either. The strangest part, of course, is that there are plenty of other solutions that don’t include putting up a huge umbrella. For example, the reflective facade of Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall was sanded down after it heated up nearby buildings. Likewise, in the Middle East, reflective towers are often fitted with shades that mitigate glare.
It’s a bizarre situation — rather than spend money to fix a clearly solvable problem, the developers are spending money to commission a strange new structure that will only complicate the situation (and interfere with the neighbourhood) yet more.