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Nasher’s Landscape Architect Says Museum Tower 'Burns' The Garden

Jerome Weeks

Peter Walker, the renowned landscape architect who designed the Nasher Sculpture Center's garden, has waded into the debate about the glare from nearby Museum Tower. Walker's the focus of a new Huffington Post piece by Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Birnbaum spoke two weeks ago at the national conference of the Association of Architecture  Organizations in Dallas. It just happened to be held at the Nasher, and Birnbaum made pointed references to the troubles between the Nasher and Museum Tower. (I moderated the public panel that had Birnbaum and Dallas’ own Brent Brown speaking about involving the public in public design issues).

Birnbaum has wanted to up the public outrage over the Museum Tower-Nasher controversy in the hopes it will effect a solution to save what he sees as an endangered masterpiece. He previously added the Nasher to his foundation’s latest ‘Landslide’ list of at-risk landscapes. In his new blog post, which summarizes the history of this dispute so far, Birnbaum mostly adds a somewhat overlooked viewpoint in the ongoing battle: that of Walker (who also designed the major re-do of the UTD campus).

According to Walker, “What the reflection does is very much like putting light through a magnifying glass, it essentially burns everything that it sees’ … Unfortunately, since October 2011, light reflecting off the tower has undermined the harmonious environment created by Walker and [museum architect Renzo] Piano in very demonstrable ways. Museum Tower, says Walker, redirects “hot light” through the building’s grill creating patterns on the walls, the paintings, and the sculptures where “Renzo was trying to achieve … an even lighting.” A site specific work by James Turrell has been declared destroyed because the tower intrudes directly into the sculpture’s controlled view. And, the light is affecting plant materials in its path, with immediate and long-term implications.

As for a Museum Tower expert’s report that no sun-related damage was found, Birnbaum quotes Robert Moon, a PhD horticulturalist who consulted with the Nasher and continues to monitor the garden three times a week. Moon pointed out a significant oversight in the report:  It does not “chronicle, dispute or address any of the documented temperature variations central to the matter.”

Moon sees this lack of attention to the temperature variations as a “huge failing” – it ignores the problem by not reporting on it. Instead, he notes, tower officials criticize the choice of turf grasses, to which Moon responds: “We had eight years of experience taking care of the garden and making it look good,” which changed once the tower was built. The turf, for example, which used to take at most 7-10 days to recover, now takes 21-30 days; and that slow recovery means, “We’re constantly behind.”

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.