|Architects: Thom Mayne and the Culver City firm Morphosis|
In a Dallas downtown stuffed full of individual architectural curiosities, the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science manages to stand out. It's impossible not to notice the cube with irregular surfaces and slashes of diagonal windows which flashes in the Texan sunlight.
Here's the background:
Designed by 2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis Architects, the building was conceived as a large cube floating over a landscaped plinth (or base) and is designed to inspire awareness of science through an immersive and interactive environment. It has a stone roof which features a landscape of drought-tolerant greenery inspired by Dallas surroundings.
The building's design was conceived in collaboration with Dallas-based landscape architects, Talley Associates, the plinth is landscaped with a 1-acre rolling green roof consisting of rock and native drought-resistant grasses that reflects Texas' indigenous landscape and demonstrates a living system that will evolve naturally over time. By integrating architecture, nature and technology, the building's design demonstrates scientific principles and is used as a teaching tool that provides living examples of engineering, sustainability and technology at work. Building on the museum's commitment to resource conservation, the new building integrates a variety of sustainable strategies including a rainwater collection system that captures run-off water from the roof and parking lot, satisfying 74% of the museum's non-potable water needs and 100% of its irrigation needs.
|The entry plaza|
But not everyone has been impressed. The LA Times reviewer derided the edifice as a 'Trophy Building':
Trophy Buildings....One of the pricey, preening old breed opened recently in Dallas, stranded among surface parking lots across a wide freeway from the city's mirrored-glass skyline. The $185-million Perot Museum of Nature and Science, designed by Thom Mayne and the Culver City firm Morphosis, is a largely windowless crypt, a cube lifted dramatically above the streets around it and wrapped in puckered and striated precast concrete panels.
It is a thoroughly cynical piece of work, a building that uses a frenzy of architectural forms to endorse the idea that architecture, in the end, is mere decoration. Mayne's design appears to put innovative architecture on a literal pedestal — or a plinth, to be exact — while actually allowing it to become peripheral, noticeably separate from the heart of the museum and its galleries.
The building's apparent radicalism is tacked on, its braggadocio paper-thin. Like many of Mayne's recent buildings, it is a work of architecture without the courage of its convictions — convictions that are shouted, naturally, at top volume.
The museum, 170 feet tall, sits on a roughly 5-acre piece of land prominently visible from the highway that runs at its feet. The wide surface parking lot that serves it on the southwest is mostly for staff; members of the public park in a second lot, squeezed under the long concrete bar of a freeway onramp....The point is not that Morphosis wasn't given the job of designing the exhibits; that division of labor is common enough, and this is the firm's first museum project.
The point is that the complexity announced so loudly on the facade and in the entry sequence of the museum is never revisited elsewhere, to say nothing of being genuinely explored or extended.
The sensation will not be new to followers of Mayne's recent work. A similar approach is evident, in fainter terms, in both his Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech and at his best-known Southern California building, the 2004 Caltrans District 7 Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
In each project he's put the architectural focus on the facade of the building and a single dramatic staircase. This skin-and-stair strategy then allows the client to make the rest of the building — every interior office or gallery — conventional at best and banal at worst.
A low point of the Dallas museum (funded in part by a $50-million gift from the adult children of H. Ross Perot and his wife, Margot) comes at one of the structure's higher points. The glass skin sheathing the escalator continues past the edge of the building and juts out into the sky, a formal gesture that gives the museum a bit of extra energy from afar but adds nothing inside.