Locals and outsiders alike have been heaping praise upon the Perot Museum of Nature & Science since it opened in December, not just on the dizzying array of interactive exhibit halls but on the building itself. It was designed by architect Thom Mayne to be both a natural outgrowth of the North Texas prairie from which it arises, just like the xeriscaped landscape on its roof, and a conscious reflection of the powerful forces, natural and man-made, represented inside. Most have argued that Mayne succeeded.
The Architectural Review called it an "eloquent paean to the cosmic and geological forces that shape our planet and building." ArchDaily praised the building for its "immersive architectural and natural environment" and seamless connection with the city.
And the New York Times called it "alluring but unsettling," which, the paper suggests, is exactly what a nature and science museum should be. It's "solemn with its robust abstractions and playful with its curves and striations" and "a manifestation of unseen forces, perhaps even reflecting processes not yet fully understood."
But lest local civic boosters get too caught up in the whirlwind of praise, allow the Los Angeles Times to dump a venti iced soy latte on the celebration. The paper's architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, penned a review of the building and, spoiler alert, he is not impressed.
Hawthorne's fundamental critique is that the museum's architecture is, contrary to the stated intent, completely divorced from what's going on inside and out. The exhibit halls are spaces unto themselves; entering them like leaving the grand building they're housed in and walking into a separate universe. The structure's relationship to its urban landscape is no more intimate. The Perot "turns its back on the Dallas Arts District and the new park built atop a sunken stretch of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway," Hawthorne writes. It is a thing apart.
Next: Hawthorne's ultimate word on the Perot Museum.
In case you still don't get his point, Hawthorne unleashes a barrage of choice phrases to describe the Perot: it's "pricey" and "preening"; a "thoroughly cynical piece of work"; "a work of architecture without the courage of its convictions"; an example of "ghettoized architecture" and "bullhorn urbanism" that is "mannered and overdone." This is "architecture of cartoon menace."
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It is, Hawthorne concludes, an utter failure as a piece of architecture.
Hawthorne's twin points that the Perot is a high-dollar exercise in egotism and not an organic part of the city are valid. Maybe it's that Dallasites have grown accustomed to such high-dollar vanity projects that this does not disqualify the building as a striking, even beautiful piece of architecture. It's something that shifts in the mind of the passerby, changing from a sterile monolith, completely alien to its surroundings, to an almost organic outgrowth of the surrounding landscape. The building is flawed, but not fatally so. And the exhibits inside still rock.
Next: more photos inside the Perot Museum.
See also: - Social Science: Scenes from Adult Nights at the Perot Museum - A Creationist Reviews the Perot Museum: "I Can't Believe Rational People Buy This Stuff" - Previewing the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, from A to Z