Museum Tower Doesn't Look Like Something That's Coming Down Soon

Took the tour yesterday at Museum Tower, the new 42-story condo tower accused by The Dallas Morning News of torching the Nasher Sculpture Center in the arts district downtown with its reflected light.

I'm no architecture critic. But, wow. Pretty damn sweet. Oh, not the torching. Sorry. I meant the building. Museum Tower. It's very cool. The torching is another matter entirely.

The News' editorial page always paints a bad impression of the tower and the people who built it. The other day they had an editorial saying the tower's offer to pay $5 million for an adjustment in the roof of the Nasher was "as condescending as it is dismissive."

So when I hiked over there for my tour, I figured I was going to see some kind of condescending dismissive place that looked like Mafia headquarters in Vegas. Instead ... what can I say? When you get inside, the whole place looks like a movie. They showed me one unit that covered an entire floor with wrap-around windows and balconies and a view just about all the way to Oklahoma.

Most of the support is from the interior core of the building, so the units have these huge, very tall glass walls. You really feel like you're walking on clouds. It's all high-end finish, of course.

I looked down from another unit to the Nasher Sculpture Center and garden across the street, and it sure did not look like a very torched place to me. I saw a deep green forest of healthy trees including some abundantly flowering ornamentals. I did see some yellow patchy looking grass. But guess what! I looked all around at the rest of the arts district in every direction including Klyde Warren Park, and all I saw was crappy yellow grass, most of it way worse than the Nasher. All that means is that Dallas is not Connecticut, and people who plant water-sucking northeastern-bred grass lawns are going to have yellow sucky lawns a lot of the year. Plus, the other thing that was strikingly visible when I looked out from Museum Tower: All the buildings around it are glass.

I'm not even going to make any jokes about money and who can afford to live in a place like Museum Tower. We all know who can't. Me. But if somebody could afford something like that, I can see how Museum Tower is where he'd want to be. And why do I care about that? OK, which is better? Having the super-rich living downtown in the bosom of the city where we can keep an eye on them, or having them all out living out of view around some far-flung golf course sitting around drunk all day bitching about Obama? Hmm, I may need to weigh that one. OK, forget it. Anyway, Museum Tower is very snazzy.

The Nasher, a sculpture museum, was there first. Then three years ago construction began on the Museum Tower across the street, just north of the Nasher. The developers of Museum Tower had to jump through lots of hoops and meet all sorts of city guidelines and requirements, which they did.

Their building is fully legal. In fact, the developers say it goes beyond the requirements of the law. It's on track, they say, to win LEED certification, a designation of the U.S. Green Building Council, which promulgates a set of standards far more stringent than our own city code and zoning requirements.

The Nasher has a special roof made out of little tubes called oculi that catch the light at just a certain angle. Apparently at certain times of day, the light reflected off Museum Tower goes straight into those tubes and creates a glare inside the Nasher. But nobody planned that. No one foresaw it. It seems to me, if you put a bunch of light-catcher tubes on your roof, you're really gambling that nothing will ever change around you to make more light go into your tubes than you had planned on. In other words, putting light catcher tubes on your roof is rolling the dice to begin with. But that's just me.

Gregory C. Greene, one of the original developers of Museum Tower, showed me some plastic mock-ups of the roof pieces Museum Tower has offered to install on top of the Nasher, replacing existing roof pieces, in order to cut down on glare. Museum Tower has offered to pay the full $5 million for this permanent 100 percent good-neighbor solution. That's the one the Morning News said was condescending and dismissive. They think it's very upstart and impudent of Museum Tower to tell the Nasher to change one damned thing on its roof.

In fact the position espoused by the News and the Nasher is that the Nasher building itself, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, is a work of art and asking that it be changed in any way is like suggesting a dye job and fake eyelashes for the Mona Lisa. I don't think so.

Piano is revered for some of his work, but his reputation is hardly set in stone. His buildings in Europe have been called everything from "ego-maniacal architecture" to "a sobering mistake." I don't see how the little building he did for the Nasher can be considered so artistically sacred as to be untouchable.

But be that as it may. A few readers here have suggested in comments that I may lack the necessary credentials to engage in architecture criticism, and in deference to their feelings and the sensitivity of the matter I have eschewed from making what might otherwise have been my response, which is go screw yourself. See? I have not said go screw yourself, have I? You know why? Because I have too much good taste.

This is all I want to say. These Museum Tower people have built a 42-story building that is like a modern castle in the sky for very rich people who want to live downtown. Go look at the web page. It is fantastic.

They met all the laws and codes and requirements. They say they have gone beyond beyond. They sound urgent and sincere when they say they want to be good neighbors and resolve the thing about the Nasher.

Here's the point. Museum Tower is not going away. Gradually, very rich people from far and wide are going to come take the tour like I did, and, unlike me, some of them will put down deposits. Steve Sandborg, vice president of sales and marketing, told me he was closing on three units this week. At upwards of $4 million per unit, that's a lot of closing in one week.

The News and other champions of the Nasher have suggested repeatedly that rich people will not want to live in Museum Tower because they won't want to make the Nasher mad at them. Hey, if we were to have a Worldwide Condescending and Dismissive Olympics, I think that one would take the gold.

Are there that many really rich people out there who are afraid of sculpture museums? I suspect there are more who are not. In fact, in the multiple-house owning, globe-trotting, loosely tethered realm of people who can afford a place like Museum Tower in the first place, I suspect there are many who have never heard of this controversy and don't want to hear about it now.

The position of the Nasher remains absolutely inflexible on anything involving changes to the Nasher. Jill Magnusson, the Nasher's director of external affairs, told me: "The Nasher will not support any solution that does not address the entirety of the problem -- the impact of the glare on the Dallas Arts District as well as our indoor and outdoor galleries -- and therefore, the only solution is to fix Museum Tower."

But maybe the extreme touch-me-not posture on the part of the Nasher has a certain half-life to be kept in mind, a clock ticking. I predict in two years Museum Tower will be chock-a-block with very rich occupants who will then be its owners. So how much bleeding heart should we expect from that crowd? Oculi-shnoculi. At a point in time, all of this will be old, because all of this will be over.