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UT Dallas breaks ground on the new $158 million Edith and Peter O'Donnell Athenaeum

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Courtesy: of Morphosis Architects
Artist's rendering of Phase 1 of the UTD Athenaeum -- the Crow Museum.

The 12-acre complex will include a performance hall and two museums.

What's now a parking lot at the southern end of the University of Texas at Dallas' campus will soon become an entire cultural district.

Dignitaries, the media, a brass band and a choir gathered together in UTD's Parking Lot M Wednesday morning to break ground on what will become an arts complex of three buildings, with surrounding support facilities. These will include the future home of the Crow Collection of Asian Art, a 600-seat concert hall and a museum dedicated to traditional Latin American arts.

"Athenaeum" is a Greek term for a library, but it's come to mean both a research library and a place for seminars and discussions.

The Edith and Peter O'Donnell Athenaeum was the brainchild of the late Rick Brettell, the former director of the Dallas Museum of Art and the first director of the O'Donnell Institute of Art History at UTD . The Athenaeum is named for the O'Donnells because of their $32 million gift to the university,the single largest gift from one of the college's major donors.

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Jerome Weeks
The groundbreaking for the new Edith and Peter O'Donnell Athenaeum at UTD, which will include the Crow Collection of Asian Art. Trammell S. Crow is on the left end of the digging crew.

UTD is still best known for science and technology — it was created by the founders of Texas Instruments to supply their company with engineers. In 2014, the O'Donnell Institute, dedicated to art history and research, was the first major move to widen UT-Dallas from its tech focus.

When combined with the O'Donnell Institute, the new Athenaeum will push UTD towards being a significant hub for cultural research, cross-disciplinary arts education and innovation as well as the archiving, performance and public display of art works.

The O'Donnell Athenaeum is also the latest development in the UTD's incredibly rapid growth. It's part of the university's New Dimensions campaign, a $750 million effort to transform UTD into a leading cultural center in North Texas. So far, $73.9 million has been raised toward building the Athenaeum.

Designed by Morphosis, the same architectural firm behind the radical design of the Perot Museum, the cultural project will be built in three phases.

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Arne Emerson of the Morphosis architectural firm (which designed the Perot Museum) is he lead designer of the O'Donnell Athenaeum

The first, to be completed by 2024, will feature 16,000 square feet of flexible display space. It'll house the Brettell Reading Room, named for Rick Brettell, and it'll be the new home for the Crow Collection of Asian Art. The Crow Collection's original facility in the Dallas Arts District will remain.

But as Trammell S. Crow said at the groundbreaking ceremony, "We thought of this [the UTD museum] as a satellite, but this will be the mother ship. I believe this union of the Crow Museum and the university is vital to our capacity for cultural understanding and interdependence."

In addition to their art collection, the Trammell Crow family contributed $25.45 million, and the late Margaret McDermott donated an additional $10.95 million. Total raised so far: $43.9 million.

The second phase will be a performing arts center, costing an estimated $65 million. It will include a 600-seat concert hall, practice and rehearsal rooms. The O'Donnell Foundation donated $30 million for the building, and it could be completed by 2025.

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The master plan of the O'Donnell Athenaeum on the UTD campus, showing the three phases of construction -- plus the parking garage,

The third phase will be the second museum, featuring Latin American art. It will house the Roger Horchow Collection of Mexican Art, the Laura and Dan Boeckman Collection of Latin American Folk Art and the Bryan J. Stevens Collection of Masks of the Sierra de Puebla.

Amy Lewis Hofland is the director of the Crow Collection. At the groundbreaking, she was credited with shepherding together some of the parts of the Athenaeum over the past several years.

Of this complicated assemblage of study, performance, education and display, Hofland said, Rick Brettell originally hoped the Athenaeum would contain "halls of learning and thinking about how culture is created, for making and seeing and talking about art."

"So that's what Rick Brettell envisioned for this, that it would be a place of connection."

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

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