Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas, by Morphosis Architects, 2012.
When looking closely at the buildings of Thom Mayne and Morphosis Architects, it's possible to see simple forms that are then violated through cuts and complicated by the layering of often translucent, metallic skins. A case in point is The Cooper Union's engineering building at 41 Cooper Square, what is basically a rectangular box enlivened by undulating perforated metal panels applied in front of a typical curtain wall; further these panels are sliced to express the atrium within. The new Perot Museum of Nature and Science (yes, that Perot) in downtown Dallas exhibits this same tendency, but to a greater degree given its cubic mass and textured concrete facade.
The museum is located a few blocks south of the Nasher Sculpture Center and the rest of the Dallas Arts District. The east border of the site is defined by the elevated Woodall Rogers Freeway (the freeway is lower west of the Nasher and adjacent blocks and has been decked over to create the Klyde Warren Park); no wonder Mayne propped up the building on a concrete plinth and focused the attention inwards. Access to the entry plaza next to the cube is via the parking lot on the south or a set of stairs from sidewalk level on the site's northeast corner. Part of the plaza is embraced by the concrete walls of the plinth, a contemporary version of St. Peter's Square.
The museum is thus a fundamentally public building – a building that opens up, belongs to and activates the city; ultimately, the public is as integral to the museum as the museum is to the city. -Morphopedia
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the most striking aspect of the cube is visible from the plaza, as if the public space that Mayne created frames his building in its best aspect. From here we see the glass-clad diagonal bar both cutting and protruding from the concrete exterior. This piece covers an escalator; the atrium that houses other parts of the building's vertical circulation is visible in a large cut below the diagonal. Given how the building is predominantly solid, these openings stand out considerably, making it clear how the vertical circulation is an important part of the experience. Mayne actually describes a spatial procession that zooms visitors to the top floor and leads them down through the galleries, an exploded Guggenheim in a concrete cube.
Getting back to Mayne's tendency to violate and complicate simple masses, the Perot Museum is the most readily graspable form of any of his recent buildings. Even with the diagonal and other cuts, it looks like a cube, and that's what it is. But instead of covering it with perforated metal to deny the form, a la 41 Cooper Square, 656 precast concrete panels are applied to give the form some texture. Yet the precast is not merely a facade material; it covers the plinth and the cube, and it extends inside the building to line the atrium space like a natural formation. Therefore the concrete unites the cube, plinth, and plaza; fitting, given that the building is envisioned as an exhibit that teaches as much about science and nature (through sustainable aspects, mainly) as the exhibitions on display.
Photographs are by Aaron Dougherty.