An Unusual Proposal to Block Architectural 'Death Rays' in Dallas

It's 400 feet tall, and sunlight-responsive.

"Architectural death rays," responsible for burning hair and melting Jaguars, can be painfully difficult to solve. Just ask Dallas.

The city's Arts District has been embroiled in a drawn-out battle between Renzo Piano's widely acclaimed Nasher Sculpture Center and Museum Tower, a 42-story luxury residential high-rise across the street. The Nasher has a unique aluminum sunscreen filled with thousands of small oculi, meant to draw in natural daylight. But Museum Tower’s curved glass facade shoots death rays into the oculi instead -- scorching the art, burning plants, and blinding visitors.

Left: Site context (Google Maps) Right: Glare from Museum Tower as observed in Nasher (REX)

In the last two years, the dispute has escalated into a "cultural, civic, and commercial tragedy," said Veletta Forsythe Lill, former executive director of the Dallas Arts District.

Neither side is willing to offer much in the way of a concession. Museum Tower says any change to its facade is structurally unfeasible, too expensive, and would drive down the value of apartments. The Nasher worries that redesigning its sunscreen would ruin the "integrity" of the gallery.

Last year, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund -- Museum Tower’s developer -- commissioned architecture firm REX and facade consultancy Front to explore a “third option” that would require no modification to either structure. The assignment essentially dictates that something be put between the dueling buildings.

On Tuesday, the designers unveiled a 400-foot-tall sculptural "shade."

(Luxigon)
(Luxigon)
(Luxigon)

The designers mapped reflections from the Museum Tower at each time of day for the entire year onto a vertical plane between the two buildings. This analysis allowed them to determine the exact shape necessary to block glares throughout the year.

An analysis of sun activity throughout the year determined how large the sculpture needed to be. (REX)
 
And in a clever move, the ring-shaped "shade" was turned into a bicycle-wheel structure that holds different-sized umbrellas in place. Covered with light-sensitive panels, these umbrellas "blossom" when glare reaches a certain level and retract into small tubes when glare it's not that bad. The designers argue that making the shade dynamic instead of static avoids destroying the "commanding views" from the multi-million dollar apartments on the Museum Tower's glare-inducing southewestern face. 
 

The shade is composed of different-sized umbrellas that "blossom" when glare reaches a certain intensity and retracts otherwise. (REX)  
 
 

This closeup shows how the umbrellas "blossom" and retract. (REX) 
 
It's sort of an outrageous solution -- for one, the structure has to be supported from a giant tripod extending from a nearby parking lot. But when you build immodesty into an assignment, this is what you get.

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