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Lee Cullum: Nasher Sculpture Center and Museum Tower Dispute

Mediation’s begun to try and resolve the controversy between the Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas and the Museum Tower next door. At issue is glare from the Tower’s reflective glass and its impact on the Nasher’s outdoor garden and indoor galleries.  Commentator Lee Cullum weighs in on the controversy.

No one is more in love with the Nasher family, the Nasher Sculpture Center or the people who run it than I am. No one admires more the transcendence accomplished there every day than I do. So I am as horrified as many others are by the  harm that  Museum Tower, a 42-story condominium closeby, is inflicting on this magnificent setting for Twentieth Century sculpture.

Already one work of art has been destroyed by the tower, which loomed over a magical enclosure by James Turrell designed for a radiant experience of the sky. That’s gone. What you get instead is a view of the condo’s reflecting glass, now raising temperatures in and outside the galleries, concentrating the light of the sun in ways that can scorch the plants, damage the paintings and dispirit,   the visitors hoping for cool repose.

It’s too late now to cut the building back to its original plan for 21 stories, or the second proposal for two 21-story  structures. Besides, the problem isn’t the height half so much as it is the glare from the reflecting glass that from the beginning was a problematic choice.      

The question is why was this desecration permitted by City Hall? Granted, no changes in the zoning for height were needed. But surely the Arts District, repository of enormous effort and expense, deserved more official protection than it received.

To his great credit, Mayor Mike Rawlings has leapt into the breach,naming Tom Luce, an eminently fair-minded lawyer and expert on education, to mediate the situation. But where action also is need is in the Department of Development Services, which has been called “an escort service for developers.”

Dallas must return to real city planning with an empowered  professional  in charge. A good place to start would be in the Design Studio, created at City Hall with private funding initially to  guide growth along the Trinity River. Surely this work can be extended to cover other areas of the city, with the authority necessary to prevent  calamities such as this. 

Lee Cullum is a veteran journalist and commentator living in Dallas. You can hear more about the Nasher Center-Museum Tower issue Monday in a report from Jerome Weeks during Morning Edition, and also during Think at noon.