In Museum Tower vs. Nasher, Tower Officials Say the Only Sure Fix is Fixing the Nasher Roof

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It seems like decades, or perhaps centuries, since we first started hearing about the feud between the Nasher Sculpture Center and its shiny new neighbor, Museum Tower, a high-end condo building owned by the pensioners of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.

The latest development, aside from our Jim Schutze putting a rhetorical down payment on a studio condo there, was the resignation of attorney Tom Luce several weeks ago as the facilitator between the two sides. But that doesn't mean the pension fund has stopped looking for ways to resolve the problem, according to the pension fund.

At a "technical update" this morning at the system's Harry Hines headquarters, one of the architects on the Museum Tower project, Ahbijeet Mankar of Johnson Fain, walked some pension fund staff and several of the trustees through a slideshow of all the solutions they've considered. Among the board members present were three City Council members: Scott Griggs, Sheffie Kadane, and Jerry Allen. Delia Jasso, the fourth council member on the DPFP board, wasn't present.

The gist of the two-hour presentation was, essentially, that out of 20 proposed solutions to the glare issue, just three are feasible. The only small hitch there: all of them are ideas that the Nasher has previously rejected. Pension fund administrator Richard Tettamant said during the meeting that a solution to the dispute "will not happen in 2012."

The Nasher's director of external affairs, Jill Magnuson, seemed to agree, telling us the pension fund's meeting was "a publicity stunt."

The solution that the Nasher favors is adding louvers to Museum Tower. Those are, in essence, a series of mechanized shutters that could be closed at various times of day when the glare is the worst.

"We stand by the smart louver system," Magnuson said. "It's tested, and it's cost-efficient."

But the pension fund claims that the Nasher hasn't properly tested the louver system, and that it'll cost more than $20 million, instead of the $7 million or so the Nasher has projected. In his presentation, Mankar also claimed there are serious structural, practical, and aesthetic problems with retrofitting the building to add louvers.

One of the biggest is the inelegantly named "wind load." What that means, in English: Can the louvers stand up to really gusty winds, or would they perhaps fly off and kill someone? In addition, he said, the architects don't believe that they would completely cut the glare.

Numerous other solutions were also rejected by the Museum Tower team for various reasons, including adding light-diffusing film to the glass, hanging curtains on the exterior of the building, putting some kind of canopy between the two properties, or building "mechanical palm trees" to help shade the Nasher.

In the end, there's only idea that Mankar and the rest of the MT team seem really optimistic about. That's reorienting the "oculi" on the Nasher's roof, turning them so that they face northwest instead of due north.

"This is a 100 percent solution," Mankar said. The change to the light, he added, "would not be discernible to the human eye." Cy Cantrell, a professor of optics from UT Dallas that the pension fund has hired as a consultant, agreed.

Magnuson does not. "It's not a 100 percent solution, as it doesn't address our garden," she said. (The pension fund claims that the garden has not been harmed by glare; all the plant life is healthy, they say, and the thinning grass can be attributed to the type of grass the museum is using.)

Magnuson also says the oculi proposal "is flawed with information in regard to the workability. It's not about reorienting an oculi. What they're wanting to do is reduce the amount of light that comes into the museum. it's a very, very big difference. Take a symphony hall, like the acoustics in the Meyerson. It's like saying we'll reduce the amount of the acoustical support in the Meyerson. You've completely changed the environment. It's not a solution that we consider to be a viable option."

There are two other two ideas that the pension fund management seems amenable to, though they're not as jazzed about them as they are about the Nasher's oculi. These ideas involve putting a large, light-deflecting sculpture between the two properties, or else installing a mechanized canopy over the Nasher.

Those are also unacceptable, Magnuson said.

"I have heard about that," she said, referring to the sculpture. "Again, that was taken off the table by both parties in June, at our first big meeting. Furthermore, there's been a letter that we received a copy of in which the architect [of the sculpture] said that he's not willing to go forward with that idea."

"This is a publicity stunt," Magnuson added. "This is a distraction from the real issue. All of these things that they're discussing right now with the media are not things they're discussing with us. They're just trying to buy their time to not to get to a solution, in our opinion... That's the thing that is really happening here at the end of the day. This is all just a publicity stunt, and you are just privy to it."

To summarize: everything in that corner of the Arts District is still an enormous, seemingly intractable mess. No sign of that changing anytime soon. Carry on, everyone.

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