While visiting my family in Fort Worth during the Christmas holidays, I went to the Cultural Center where the town has a cluster of notable buildings. The city recently finished rebuilding the Museum of Arts and Science that was designed by Legorreta + Legorreta and I was curious to see how it turned out.
What a disappointment!
Most of the visitors will be arriving to the cultural center via University or Montgomery Street after taking Interstate 30 from Dallas or from the outer edges of Fort Worth. This museum’s loading dock hides all but the top part of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. The back side of the new museum that is finished with EIFS is what one will see when approaching the cultural center on Montgomery Street.
EIFS is a cheap exterior finish that is constructed with sprayed on textured plastic upon a nylon mesh that is glued upon Styrofoam. If you thump it with your fingers, you will hear a hollow echo. Even though the museum has only been open for a few weeks, the ground crew has easily managed to damage this exterior finish with their trimming tools. You can find gashes on the EIFS walls that expose the Styrofoam near the ground.
Even the architect wanted to hide this ugly side of the building. He added rows of shrubs on top of a long narrow hill (a berm) that acts as a visual barrier. There is a large outdoor area on this side of the building that could be used as an outdoor amphitheater, but a lot of work will need to be done to make that sparse area more inviting.
To get to the front entrance, the visitor must turn on West Lancaster Avenue and then onto Gandy Street. Gandy Street is flanked by a huge parking structure that is currently under construction and an even larger parking lot. The front entrance of the museum is also on Gandy Street. But, to find the front entrance is a challenge.
This awkward cube looks like it should be the main entrance when you approach the building, but it is not...
The large brick cube with the clear glass clearstory that is along the same street wall as the Cowgirl Hall of Fame first appears to be the logical destination to enter the museum. But it is not. The only purpose of this imposing mass is to house a rusty scaled down model of an oil derrick. Not a big attraction for the visitors.
The Urban Cube is that structure at the end of a long unaccessible road..
The main entrance is hidden behind the brick cube. In fact, the four simple glass doors are placed in its own cube that is cleverly named the “Urban Lantern.” This entrance is at the end of the axis created by Burnett Tandy Drive that passes between the rows of live stock barns. Except for a few spots along the curb, there is no parking available on this road. In fact, this road will be closed to vehicular traffic during the Fat Stock Show. This is the annual community event that attracts the majority of visitors into this area. During other times of the year, I guess that the museum is counting on the the visitors to arrive via school bus that will unload scores of children at this front.
Most of the visitors who drive their own cars to this museum will park in one of the two parking areas that are on either side of Gandy Street. Entering through the obscure side entrance near the IMAX Theater would be the easiest route into the building – not the front entrance.
Some of the community leaders of Fort Worth really like this museum because it has its own unique architecture. They like the bold use of colors and the Mexican-American influence of style. These are good design elements to have in a cultural center if they are used with a purpose and with an order.
The Amon Carter Museum, Kimball Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Casa Manana, and the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum are the cultural neighbors of this new museum that clearly have order.
One of these arches are not like the other...
The architect, Philip Johnson, provides order with his post-modern colonnade in front of the Amon Carter Museum. The building is placed upon one of the highest parts of the cultural center and looks down toward downtown Fort Worth much like the Acropolis. There is an elegant arch between the columns that emulate the arched roofs of the stock yard barns. He was very interested in creating an experience for the visitor. Be sure to read more about how experience based design is the best way to boost your profits in your office spaces in the book, “The Designed Office”http://www.MyDesignedOffice.com
The architect, Louis Kahn, provides order with his row of barrel vaults on the Kimball Art Museum. The arches on these vaults are also borrowed from the arched roofs found on the live stock barns nearby.
The architect, Tadao Ando, provides order with his stacked rectangular galleries in the plan of the Museum of Modern Art. He then provides some playful ovals to break up the grid. Mr. Ando studied the arches of its neighbor, the Kimbell Museum, and added similar barrel vaults in his design.
The Cowgirl Hall of Fame provides order with its reference to classic architecture, the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum provides order with its art deco references, and the geodesic dome of the Casa Manana provides an obvious geometric order.
The Museum of Science and History, however, looks like it was designed by a committee. The mass of the building is a mismatched collection of geometric shapes that have haphazard offsets. It appears that the architect started with a bubble diagram to organize the various spaces and then handed it to the various department heads to determine their sizes. It would be very helpful if a grid was used to tie all of the geometric shapes together.
There are several pyramids on the roof that do not relate to anything else. Barrel vaults were used at the ceiling of various public spaces but their profiles are much like one would create if they used a simple circle template. They are certainly not reflecting the flat elegant arches of the other major buildings nearby. Instead, they appear to be designed by an amateur.
I have a lot of fond memories at the Museum of Science and History. When I visited it as a child, the museum was called the Children’s Museum. The museum offers a lot more things for young minds than it did when I was visiting it as a child. They now have the IMAX, interactive learning areas, and a large area for traveling shows.
The one thing that survived the redesign of the Museum of Science and History is the spirit of learning. Children and their family members will continue to come in large numbers to this new facility. Unfortunately, most visitors probably will not ever consider what is mentioned in this blog post.
For them, it will not matter if they were in a new museum or in a new shopping mall. For them, it is just a place to go and maybe learn something new.
But for me, it is important to have a well thought out design that earns its place near such great monumental architecture as its surrounding neighbors. For me, it needs to be more than just another destination.
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