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Roll Out The Barrel Vault

By TOM McCLELLAN |

Forget the picture-postcard view of the Dallas skyline. Of late, the defining characteristic of much of our architecture is the barrel vault. It’s a major structural theme for The Galleria complex and nearby Providence Towers. Decorative barrel-vault details grace the Crescent near Woodall Rodgers Freeway, Mockingbird Park at Greenville Avenue, and The Triad north of Belt Line Road. We asked a number of architects to comment on the trend.

Bill Lacey of Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum Inc., designers of the Galleria complex, traces the structure from ancient Rome through the Renaissance to the contemporary architects’ search for new forms in their attempt “to get away from the minimalist, flat-roofed buildings of the Sixties and Seventies and add romance and drama.” The precise appeal of a series of arches, according to Lacey, is difficult to pinpoint, but “there’s something soft about them.”

The barrel vault that caps Ten Thousand North Central also has a practical function: i( was designed to house the building’s air conditioning and elevator equipment, according to Bob Swaim, senior vice president for H.K.S. & Partners Inc., the building’s designers. But Swaim says practicality was not the main motive. Rather, the barrel vault helps make the building “a sculptural and aesthetically pleasing whole.”

The most familiar and forceful use of the barrel vault in Dallas is the Dallas Museum of Art, designed by the New York firm of Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates. The large vaulted gallery, 37 feet wide, 113 feet long, and 45 feet high at the apex, was designed to accommodate the largest works of contemporary art, the DMA’s strongest collection. “A twenty-four by twenty-four-foot painting doesn’t look cramped,” says Dan Casey, design team leader for the project.

The barrel vault, according to Casey, is “the symbolic focal center, as well as the geographic center of the museum, a climax to the series of galleries. It says to the viewer, ’You are here now. This is art today.’ “

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