Find a back issue

Where Does the City of Dallas Stand on the Museum Tower Death Ray?

Since our story about Museum Tower came out, I’ve been asked a number of times whether the city of Dallas should have prevented the reflectivity problem during the permitting process. A couple of out-of-towners asked me this question at the David Dillon Symposium. The short answer: no. The long answer: no, but it could have if Museum Tower had been built on the other side of Woodall Rodgers.

I ran into an architect friend of mine over the weekend. He broke it down for me like this:

There’s a planned development district that encompasses Uptown. It’s called PD 193. It has zoning requirements that differ from the standard Dallas zoning laws. One of the requirements deals with glass reflectivity. If you build a tower in PD 193, right across Woodall from where Museum Tower now stands, your glass cannot exceed 27 percent reflectivity. Museum Tower’s glass is 44 percent reflective.

The regular Dallas zoning code just says: “A person shall not conduct a use that has a visible source of illumination that produces glare or direct illumination across a property line of an intensity that creates a nuisance or detracts from the use or enjoyment of adjacent property.” (I explored that nuisance issue here. At least one good lawyer thinks the Nasher wouldn’t have a solid claim.)

Know what’s curious? The city has adopted a green building code that encourages highly reflective glass. The more reflective the glass, the less heat is generated in the building. Less heat means less AC needed. The folks at Museum Tower stressed this to me repeatedly, that they are shooting for a high-level LEED certification. But while the building itself — any building — might be greener, its impact on neighboring buildings can be amplified.

11 comments on “Where Does the City of Dallas Stand on the Museum Tower Death Ray?

  1. Greener on the inside. Less green on the outside. Then it’s hardly green at all, innit? Such is the failing of narrow abstractions like LEED and green building codes that only look inside one building at a time. Light/heat is still going somewhere. The costs are merely deferred elsewhere and to others. Externalized, literally.

  2. @downtown_worker: I think the answer is that the city inspectors likely did not overlook anything (at least with respect to the reflectivity of the tower’s glass).

  3. Will the new reflective glass office tower that Craig Hall is proposing to develop in the Dallas Arts District going to do the same to the Meyerson and Cathedral Guadaloupe?

  4. @WalkableDFW speculates on his blog — http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/2012/04/build-for-your-climate.html — that The Nasher may have some sort of “takings” claim. Takings claims are based on the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits government taking private property for a public use without just compensation. It’s hard to see how the “Museum Tower” — argh; it should be anti-Museum Tower — is a public use or how its developer is a government entity, notwithstanding that the lender is a public employees’ retirement fund — double argh.

    I’ve wondered about a trespass claim. which is how private parties deal with unapproved entry onto someone else’s property. But I suspect that invasions by light and heat, rather than tangible or corporeal substances — have previously been held not to be trespassing, even though they clearly should be considered trespasses.

  5. I just read the article a few hours ago (hard copy). Excellent work, Mr. Rogers. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  6. It’s Dallas — we like shiny buildings. No, we LOVE shiny buildings. That’s what we’ve been known for since the days of the Dallas TV show. Shiny buildings, shiny cars, shiny money, shiny jewelry. It’s built into our collective self-image. Never had to worry about bad effects of shiny (*GASP*) things ‘cuz shiny has always been good! To think and act otherwise is so contrary to our way of being, especially when money and politics are involved. Shiny buildings which stand apart for other structures, such as the old Fina towers (gold glass) on Central don’t pose much of a threat but if we’re going to develop downtown/Uptown/rest of town with lots of glass we’d better think (and design) carefully in our quest to become “world class.”

  7. Appending my previous comment — make that “world Glass!” TEE HEE

  8. The question isn’t really about the city, but why the Nasher didn’t raise a complaint during the public approval phase by the city?

  9. Chris,
    The Museum Place as originally proposed was nothing at all like the Museum Place the Nasher and the city got and now have to live with. As Tim explains in his D magazine piece.