Surya sunlight-responsive sculpture
by REX and Front

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New York studio REX and architects Front have designed a sunlight-responsive sculpture that would prevent glare from a curved glass tower in Dallas scorching a Renzo Piano-designed museum.

Visualisation of the Surya sunlight-responsive sculpture by REX
Visualisation by Luxigon. Also main image

The curved glass facade of the 42-storey Museum Tower reflects intense Texas sun onto the glass roof of Renzo Piano's Nasher Sculpture Centre, posing a threat to artwork inside, so REX and Front proposed a 120-metre-high sunshade to be constructed between the two buildings.

The surface of the structure would be covered with light-sensitive panels that blossom like flowers when the glare reaches a certain intensity. These panels would be fixed to a wheel-like frame filled with thin spokes, unfurling from tubes at necessary points of the day then retracting when no longer needed.

Visualisation of the Surya sunlight-responsive sculpture by REX
Visualisation by Luxigon

"The result is a 400-foot tall, dynamic, sunlight-responsive sculpture which blocks glare from Museum Tower onto the Nasher and which equally serves as an identifying symbol for the Dallas Arts District," said REX principal Joshua Prince-Ramus.

REX and Front were commissioned in 2012 by the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund - the developer of the 42-storey Museum Tower - to explore the option of a shade along the road intersecting the two sites, following a widely reported battle with the museum over whether the buildings themselves should be modified.

Nasher Sculpture Centre by Renzo Piano in the Dallas Art District
Nasher Sculpture Centre by Renzo Piano in the Dallas Art District

The studio mapped sunlight patterns onto a virtual vertical plane between the buildings to gauge how large an intervention would need to be to block glare to the museum.

"This analysis circumscribed the silhouette required to block all reflections," said Prince-Ramus, "a shape roughly 343 feet tall by 168 feet wide and elevated 57 feet above grade."

Oculi in the roof of the Nasher Sculpture Centre
Oculi in the roof of the Nasher Sculpture Centre

The Nasher Sculpture Centre was completed by Italian architect Renzo Piano in 2003. Its roof is covered by an aluminium sun screen dotted with thousands of small oculi, which control the amount of light that filters into the gallery to create a soft glow inside the galleries.

The Museum Tower opened in 2011 and within a year was reported in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to have threatened artworks in the galleries, burnt plants in the garden and blinded visitors with its glare.

Glass-clad Museum Tower in Dallas
Glass-clad Museum Tower

Joshua Prince-Ramus was the founding partner of OMA New York, an affiliate office of Rem Koolhaas' studio. He renamed the firm REX in 2006 and has since completed Vakko Fashion Center & Power Media Centre in Istanbul and proposed a tower that looks like like a filing cabinet for the Yongsan International Business District in Seoul.

Earlier this year we reported that London's new Walkie Talkie skyscraper was reflecting a beam of light intense enough to melt cars parked on a nearby street, which its architect Rafael Viñoly admitted he knew would happen.

Glare from Museum Tower coming through the roof of the Nasher Sculpture Centre
Glare from Museum Tower coming through the roof of the Nasher Sculpture Centre

Here's the information sent to us by REX:


Surya
Dallas, Texas

In 2003, the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Sculpture Center was opened to world-wide acclaim, joining the Meyerson Symphony Center and the Dallas Museum of Art in generating critical mass for the Dallas Arts District.

An innovative cast aluminium sunscreen—specifically tuned to the building's longitude and latitude—floats above the Nasher's glass roof. The sunscreen’s patented egg crate-shaped "oculi" allow controlled natural light to filter into the galleries and provide a dramatic view to the sky when looking north.

Axonometric of the neighbourhood outlining the plots
Axonometric of the neighbourhood outlining the plots

The sunscreen's unique design appears to have overlooked the Dallas Arts District's master plan, designed by Sasaki Associates and adopted by the City of Dallas in 1983. This plan zoned an "as of right" skyscraper on the site due north of the Nasher, directly in the line of sight through the Nasher's oculi.

In 2011, Museum Tower—a 42-story, 170-metre (560 ft) condo tower—began construction on this site, delivering the promise of much-desired residential activity into the Dallas Arts District. While any tower would reflect some light back into the Nasher's galleries and impede views from the galleries to the sky, Museum Tower's height, elliptical plan geometry, and highly reflective glass greatly exacerbate these problems. A perfect storm is born that will mire the Nasher and Museum Tower in pointed argument, and plague the aura of Dallas's important cultural district.

Diagram showing the sun reflecting off the Museum Tower
Diagram showing the sun reflecting off the Museum Tower

The Nasher proposes Museum Tower cover its southwestern exposure with an external louver system. Museum Tower responds that this solution is not structurally feasible, is prohibitively expensive, and will render the residential units less commercially attractive, thereby jeopardizing the project's profitability. Museum Tower notes that no alteration to its exterior will fully eliminate glare into the galleries, one of the Nasher's demands.

Museum Tower proposes to redesign the Nasher's oculi, such that the Tower is no longer visible through the sunscreen and its glare is blocked. The Nasher responds that the sunscreen was considered by Ray Nasher (who passed away in 2007) to be a significant part of the sculpture collection he gave to Dallas, and that adjusting the oculi will not improve Museum Tower's negative impacts to the Nasher's adjacent sculpture garden.

Sunlight mapped onto a vertical plane between the two buildings
Sun paths mapped onto a vertical plane between the two buildings

In 2012, the team of REX and Front was commissioned by the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund (DPFPF)—Museum Tower’s developer—to explore a "third option," one that would not require changing the construction of either Museum Tower or the Nasher.

From the outset, REX/Front and DPFPF agreed that any third option had to achieve three objectives:

1 - completely protect the Nasher's galleries at all times of the year;
2 - cause as little impact to the real estate value of Museum Tower as possible; and
3 - be a positive addition to the Dallas Arts District in its own right.

Shape formed by the sun paths on a vertical plane
Shape formed by the sun paths on a vertical plane

It was acknowledged that any third option would not be modest given the height of Museum Tower and its close proximity to the Nasher, and might serve to show why alterations to either Museum Tower or the Nasher would be more prudent.

To avoid simply repeating the problems created by Museum Tower, the intervention must be composed of a matte, light-diffusing material with a neutral grey tone.

Panels covering the area to shade the glare
Panels covering the area to shade the glare

To determine the intervention’s extents, the reflections from Museum Tower were mapped at each time of day for every day of the year onto a vertical plane running down the centre of Olive Street, the road separating Museum Tower and the Nasher.

This analysis circumscribed the silhouette required to block all reflections, a shape roughly 343 feet tall by 168 feet wide and elevated 57 feet above grade.

Ring-shaped frame with a wheel of spokes to hold the panels
Ring-shaped frame with a wheel of spokes to hold the panels

Building a static blind of this dimension would block the commanding views from the multi-million dollar apartments on Museum Tower's southwestern face, rendering them largely worthless. Hence, the shade is pixelised into variably dimensioned umbrellas that "blossom" in the precise constellation needed at any given moment of the day, and retract when not.

A perimeter ring is constructed to hold the umbrellas in place. To reduce its size, weight, and cost and to provide an armature on which to fix the umbrellas’ stems, the ring is transformed into a bicycle-wheel structure.

Tripod structure to support the shade
Tripod structure to support the shade

Supporting the intervention directly from below is unfeasible, as it runs down Olive Street’s right-of-way that houses significant city infrastructure. Supporting it from either side of the street would block all sidewalk access. Hence, it is supported at its hub by a tripod reaching from a parking lot adjacent to Museum Tower.

The result is a 400-foot tall, dynamic, sunlight-responsive sculpture which blocks glare from Museum Tower onto the Nasher and which equally serves as an identifying symbol for the Dallas Arts District. Each moment of day, every day of the year, the sculpture generates a unique composition of "blossoms".

  • Michael

    Fascinating and a bit absurd that it came to this – those of us in Texas have been following the drama between these two buildings for a long time. It’s the stuff of tabloids with all of the back-and-forth bickering between Museum Tower and the Nasher. Yes, the Nasher was there first, but Piano ought to have known that a tower was going to be built right across the street when it’s so clearly stated in its masterplan.

    While this proposal is a bit bombastic, it seems aware of its own craziness. Very interesting concept.

  • HotelSphinx

    Beautiful and a compelling concept. I would love to see this applied to a building.

  • Michael

    Besides some clear mistakes in your understanding of optics and physics, you obviously don’t grasp the extent of this controversy in Dallas. The severity of the light reflected into the Nasher is not made up – it is extreme. I’ve seen it in person. In fact, artists have pulled their work out of the museum because of how blinding the light is. The problem is that both the tower and the museum insist it’s not their fault and want the other party to fix it.

    • jackthescientist

      So would you please fill us all in on your optical and physical knowledge how a convex surface bundles sunlight. Probably the windows’ reflection is 200%. It is so easy on the internet isn’t it?

  • Franca Turquesa

    Maybe planting some trees will fix the problem. Eventually.

    • Mike

      400′ tall trees? You find them and I’m sure Piano will plant them!

  • MrG

    The solution could be so simple. Why go there? Is it supposed to look good?

  • tg

    Is this a joke?

  • rf7777

    V. Going to Academy and getting some tarps to cover up the holes in the Nasher roof. Done.