Renzo Piano Threatens To Take Museum Tower to Court

Perhaps by now you’ve read my little 5,000 word ditty about Museum Tower and how it is destroying the Nasher Sculpture Center. There’s one aspect of the story that I didn’t get to address in the printed version: what happens if the two sides go to court? I don’t think that will happen for several reasons, not the least of which is that David Haemisegger, president of both NorthPark Management Company and the Nasher’s board, doesn’t want to sue. But, still, a lawsuit lies within the realm of possibility.

More than one knowledgeable person told me that a fix on the Museum Tower side could run to $20 million. How do you attach a brise soleil to a 42-story building that was never intended to support such a structure? The fix would be expensive. And it would wipe out any profit that the building’s owner, the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System, could hope to reap. In fact, it could put the project in the red. So they won’t want to fix the problem on their side.

On the other side, you have (among others) Renzo Piano. The famed architect who designed the Nasher told me that he will not change his roof. “What we can do is make a blind roof,” he said. “But I will never. Not out of respect for my work and out of respect for the legacy of Ray Nasher. I will never.” And, even if he did change his roof, that wouldn’t save the garden, which is right now being cooked by Museum Tower.

Piano acknowledged that bringing the matter to court has crossed his mind. “Those people [meaning the Museum Tower’s designers, developers, owners] don’t understand that we will make trouble for them if they don’t find a solution,” Piano said. “If there is any need of legal action, that will be done, of course. Nobody should think that they can destroy a building or an institution like this without any problem.”

So what would happen if the Nasher brought a nuisance claim against Museum Tower? One lawyer I talked to said that the Nasher would lose.

William Allensworth is an Austin construction lawyer with some skins on the wall. When I put the question to him, he was initially puzzled. He’d never handled such a “light trespass” case before. Nor could he call one to mind. So he did what any smart guy with skins on the wall would do: he had some junior associate do a whole bunch of work for him to try to figure it out. Allensworth was kind enough to send me a report on his findings. You can read the whole thing. But here’s the upshot:

To prevail in a nuisance claim, the Nasher would have to show that the Museum Tower developers invaded the Nasher’s interest in its land by conduct that was: 1) negligent; 2) intentional and unreasonable; or 3) abnormal and out of place in its surroundings.

Allensworth’s young associate wrote: “The developer was probably not negligent in constructing the new building because it did not owe a legal duty to the museum. Additionally, even if the developer’s conduct was intentional, … commercial development is not an unreasonable activity. Finally, commercial construction would not qualify as abnormal and out of place in the surroundings.”

What’s more, nuisance law relies on an objective standard. It doesn’t protect an “ultra-sensitive property owner.” That pretty well describes the Nasher.

As I say, though, all the forgoing is probably a moot issue. This thing is going to be decided in the court of public opinion, where different rules apply.


  • Sam Merten

    Bang-up job on both the cover story and follow-up, Tim. I’ve really enjoyed reading about the inside baseball behind this mess.

  • Chris

    I may have missed this, but was this never brought up in the city approval meetings by the Nasher reps?

  • FortWorthGuy

    It has been a few years since I read about this incident, but to my recollection there was a similar situation in Los Angeles with Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall. It was refelecting a lot of light onto other buildings in the area and hot spots on the sidewalk of 140 degrees. Wikipedia does not state that there was legal action, but the Hall did take action to correct the problem.

  • M Streeter

    Good work, Tim. L.A’s Disney Concert Hall had a similar problem. The Frank Gehry-design had its metallic “shingles” dulled to reduce reflection. Arborists at the Nasher quietly say that the extra light from Museum Tower is actually beneficial to plants in the shadier areas of the gardens.

  • @FortWorthGuy: I’m very familiar with the Disney Hall issue. As should Scott Johnson should be. The Museum Tower Architect lives in LA.

    Two professors at USC studied the reflectivity issue at Disney. I can’t find their report online. I’ve asked for permission to post it here. Stay tuned.

  • @M Streeter: Sure. Meanwhile, though, the sunnier parts are getting fried. And, of course, there is the Turrell. That installation is ruined and I suspect will eventually be removed. $1.5 million of Ray Nasher’s money down the drain.

  • Bill Marvel

    Back on the days when the Arts District was a gleam in the eye of developers and reporters still took notes on paper, I attended several meetings at which the Dallas Museum’s own sculpture garden as well as plans for the Nasher site were being discussed. Several speakers warned repeatedly that high-rise construction around the site would cast unwanted shadows and reflections. Nobody took them very seriosly.

  • jr

    It appears that that these 3 marketing professionals in charge of selling units at the Museum Tower should probably start polishing their resumes as it looks like the project is star-crossed and they will have plenty of free time as I imagine that there will not be too many buyers wanting to live in this condo project.

  • Here is the USC study on the reflection problem at Disney Hall.

    When I asked Marc Schiler, one of the authors of the study, where I could find it online, he wrote back:

    “Note that the more distant focal points were successfully diffused and the mid-air points were eliminated, which were probably traffic hazards. However, this was done with minimal change to the exterior of the Disney and there are still ground surfaces which reach 140 F. But the higher temperatures and the impact on surrounding buildings has been mitigated.

    “It’s a choice between aesthetics and environmental impact, to some extent. But in my opinion, there is no longer an excuse for such reflective towers. This problem has been known for a decade.

    The bold emphasis is mine. The good professor passed along some more reading on the topic:

    Schiler, Marc and Valmont, Elizabeth.; “Urban Environmental Glare: the Secondary Consequence of Highly Reflective Materials ,” Proceedings of the Passive and Low Energy Architecture (PLEA), Geneva, Sept. 6-8, 2006

    Schiler, Marc and Valmont, E.; “Microclimatic Impact: Glare around the Walt Disney Concert Hall,” Proceedings of the Solar World Congress 2005 Joint American Solar Energy Society / International Solar Energy Society Conference, Orlando, August 6-12, 2005.

  • @Sam Merten: Knowing how much it must have hurt you to pay that compliment, I appreciate it. And I mean that sincerely. (For those who need background, go here.)

  • dallasnative

    Haven’t we known for decades that glass buildings in Texas are not really a good idea?? Great reporting,Tim.

  • Jami

    What is the Turrell installation you referenced above? I didn’t see that in the article.

  • Chris Chris

    Am I wrong in thinking that the parties involved should crowdsource an idea on how to fix this? Maybe ask the question at the next big architect trade show?

  • Wylie H.

    Nice work, Tim!

  • milk&cookies

    Tim re the Turrell check with Jeremy I believe he has mentioned the artist can redo his sculpture but it will be very expensive.

  • @Milk&Cookies: This is just me speculating. Not only would “fixing” the Turrell be expensive, but the Nasher’s old butt is its new front door. When Klyde Warren Park opens, the Nasher will want to rethink its orientation. The back side of the garden could become its busiest portal to entry. Thus: one stone, two birds. Remove the spoiled Turrell, and install a new entrance.

    Again, though, I’m just speculating here.

  • No Trey Damnit

    @Tim – See what happens when you write nice articles for the cover instead of selling out to your home state’s fast food mecca of burgers?

  • z

    Not sure I agree with Allensworth’s quick assessment. While it’s true that the law won’t bend over backward to protect an “ultra-sensitive property owner,” the law is supposed to (at least, theoretically) expect everyone on both sides of an issue to behave reasonably. This is not a case of suddenly being told your next door neighbor has a freakish, pathological fear of the color yellow, after you’ve already paid to have your house painted yellow, and that he’s suing you to repaint it blue. Rather, Mr. Nasher’s unique collection of valuable pieces was necessarily going to require a unique, “sensitive” facility wherever it was displayed, and we were lucky to get it. Moreover, it’s been in place for years now. We all benefit from it. And it’s no secret that an art collection can require special conditions. I’d argue that the tower owners should be held to a standard of was was reasonable to build given the pre-existing, very well known, and civically desirable “sensitive” conditions inseparable from the Nasher. Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

  • milk&cookies

    @Tim reorient the entrance to the Nasher?
    Interesting, why don’t you ask Renzo about

  • RAB


    No, what Tim was talking about is a back door to the Nasher, to open onto the new Klyde Wayne Gacy Deck Park. It would make sense to cut a door into the middle of the back wall there, right where the Turrell is. I envision a sturdy screen door on a strong hinge — that would bang loudly when you let it slam shut. The Nasher could move the Turrell over to the corner, out of the sight line of the Museum Terror Building (but not so close that you would see the other buildings).

  • Excellent reporting, Tim. Compelling story. Great points to ponder. Were it not for the problems with the Nasher and Warren Park, however, Museum Tower would be celebrated as a stunning addition to the Dallas skyline.

  • Avid Reader

    Sure Jon, great addition other than those minor points. I also heard that were it not for the killing of people, Gacy was a phenomenal clown.

  • Mo Roney

    Great story. Couldn’t the Nasher commission a cool modern sculpture that included a big mirror to zap the place right back?

  • I like Mo’s idea. Get creative, Nasher.

    It’s the mark of a great story when the writer can take complex issues and explain it simply without diminishing the details. I enjoyed reading this one.

  • Wylie H.

    @Jon – I’m guessing the “celebration” would be interrupted once the Fund tallies up its massive financial losses from this ill-conceived adventure in vanity and taxpayers get handed the bill to make up the shortfall.

  • Drew

    Nice article, Tim.

    For those suggesting the Nasher do something to fix this, why? The Nasher didn’t create this problem. The Museum Tower did. It’s also unreasonable to even suggest the police and fire pension be held accountable for correcting the issue, regardless of cost. That’s the developer’s problem – and the architect’s. It really is no different than a developer cutting corners in constructing any high rise condo project or using substandard materials during construction. If problems arise, the developer should be on the hook. This happened several years ago with a condo project at Addison Circle where the building wasn’t built per city code.

    It sounds like the Nasher is (generally) trying to be a good neighbor and the Museum Tower doesn’t really want to solve the problem they created. I’m just calling it how it looks.

  • Avid Reader

    @Drew, Violating city code and using substandard building materials are in no way comparable to a building design encroaching on another’s property in some way. Those are 1st party issues of a tangible nature that are very clear cut.

  • House Wolf

    Great article!

    This project has been failed and cursed from the begining. Failed and cursed by the original developers Sughrue, Burgin, Greene, Boeckman who built this project from their own greed, arrogance and egos. They have held on to that “arrogance” throughout this whole failing process never considering anyone but themselves. The only thing John Sughrue is “heartbroken” over is that he and his group make NO money. Face the music boys…and clean this mess up! This time your GREED has destroyed what would have been the greatest arts district in the world. Thanks guys.

  • Tan Time

    Who needs a tanning club membership when one can get the overbearing radiance reflected upon them like I did earlier as I left the Crow Collection of Asian Art and headed to the Ritz on Olive between Klyde Warren Park and Museum Tower? As the construction workers pounded on the left, it drew my attention to the singed trees lining Olive. Is that normal even though we’ve had an incredible amount of rain and cool days recently?

  • Interesting comments on creating a back entrance to the Nasher. When Chicago Art Institute built the new Modern Wing (also designed by Renzo Piano) they included a sky bridge that arched over Madison avenue from Millennium Park to the third story of the museum. The idea was to capitalize on tourists visiting the park.

    Great coverage on this story though. Shame about the Turrell, but to be honest it’s been in bad shape for years.

  • Scorn

    Excellent article. Thank you for shing a light, so to speak.

  • I wonder if SMU and the Meadows Museum of Art could find a place for the Turrell sculpture? No buildings going in over 4 stories in that part of town. I know it’s a building to be moved, but an interesting thought…

  • J Seifert

    I agree with Drew, this problem was created by the architect and the developer and they should be the ones to bear the cost of any fix. It was completely irresponsible of them to clad a skyscraper in highly reflective glass with total disregard for anything else that surrounds the building. It’s not just the Nasher that is being affected, they are creating hot pockets all over the arts district. Personally, I think further construction should be immediately halted and the reflective glass panels removed until a solution is found.

  • Laura Tyson

    Wouldn’t failure to do a proper light study or impact study be considered negligent?