Photo by James S. Russell
Two-year-old Dallas Museum Tower (above) wreaks havoc with daylighting design of the Nasher Sculpture Center (below).
Photo Courtesy Nasar Sculpture Center

Representatives of the decade-old Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the neighboring 42-story Museum Tower condominium are at a standstill over a fix for a tower-triggered sun-glare problem that affects the museum and threatens to damage its contents. Last summer, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System, which owns the tower, asked newly appointed City Council trustees to broker an agreement for the problem. To date, there has been no apparent progress.

"We didn't understand how much a problem the reflections would turn out to be," says Jeremy Strick, Nasher's director.

The Johnson Fain-designed tower, which opened in September 2011, is one of several inadvertent "death ray" buildings that, due to reflective glass and shapes, refract too much sunlight.

The $70-million Nasher, financed by shopping-center developer Raymond Nasher, was designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The architect is known for elaborately controlling daylight to gently wash fragile masterpieces.

The tower has upset that control. In the afternoon, bright bands of light slant across the travertine-marble walls of the glass-roofed gallery. This impedes art viewing and makes walls useless for hanging art; the glare also made it necessary to move some art. The Nasher also claims reflections are strong enough to burn plantings in its 1.5-acre sculpture garden.

The problem is severe due to light-admitting features above the gallery roof, designed with multidisciplinary engineer Arup. Aluminum panels wrought into arrays of oculi above the glass harvest and diffuse daylight without letting in any art-damaging direct sunlight. The apertures aim due north, which put them directly in the path of the tower's reflections.

The condo's floor-to-ceiling, high-reflectance glass panels and its convex shape place many more glass panels in the sun's path. That, in turn, extends the time the museum is exposed to the disturbing light. Because the tower swells outward as it rises, it aims lower-floor windows slightly downward, increasing the intensity of the sun's reflections.

Too Expensive

The Nasher has asked the pension system to replace the tower glass with a less-reflective type or to mount movable external sunshades.

The pension system has rejected the $9-million replacement of some 500 panels as too expensive and ineffectual. It deemed the shade system too invasive for a building not designed to suspend such devices, a high-wind danger and not likely to fully solve the problem.