Friday, July 24, 2009

Photos: Meyerson Symphony Center (Part 1/3)

The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX, is a Pritzker Prize masterwork by I.M. Pei and Russell Johnson, nestled in the heart of the Arts District. My class was lucky enough to be offered an in-depth architectural tour of it by architect Tom Cox. There are so many photos and so much information to cover, that I've split it into a three part series.

Part 1: The Exterior
Part 2: The Lobby
Part 3: The Concert Hall and Inner Sanctum

This entry will cover Part 1: The exterior of the building, the outside sculptures, surrounding grounds, and the context of the buildings around it.

An obvious, but very important fact should be considered when viewing the Meyerson: architects are not accousticians, and accousticians are not architects. When Dallas chose to commission the Symphony Center, they wanted it to look new and modern and to have a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding business community. When the lights come on inside the Meyerson, they want it to be visible from the nearby skyscrapers and street level, and attract people to venture within.

(Under Construction: Winspear Opera House)

Unfortunately these two goals have a distinct disadvantage towards the true purpose of the center, which is to provide a high quality forum for listening to orchestral pieces. For one thing, the area is still heavily under construction. On one side, the Winspear Opera House and the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre are being built. Across the street, Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe tolls out bells every quarter hour.

Airplanes constantly fly overhead. Woodall Rodgers US Highway 75 borders one side. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas as well as other high-traffic buildings bring an incredible amount of traffic noise to the surrounding area.

(I.M. Pei's Fountain Place and Corten steel sculpture De Musica by Eduardo Chillida)
Surrounded by a sea of cacophonous noise, a silent sanctuary for symphonic sound must seem impossible. If a great architect must be able to work with the local context, a great accoustician must be able to defy it. Clearly the pair's work was cut out for them. The first step was in isolating as much noise as possible outside of the center. To the right of this scene is a garden.

The Meyerson was intended by the architect to be much in the spirit of the old conservatories, where one went there to see and be seen as much, if not more so, than for the purposes of hearing music. Pei desired a social place of many niches and the garden is but one.

Note the detachment and irregular directions of the sidewalk. It gives the foot traffic a subtle sense of direction, ensuring that only the most scenic and beautiful angles are exposed to the casual observer. It also helps break up the sound. The alternating soft ground, hard ground, and foliage helps break apart the outside acoustic noise of the city.

To the left is Les Ondines, by Henri Laurens. At first, I had thought this to be one of the six companion pieces to L'Air at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, but as it turns out, they were completely different artists from one another (L'Air was by Aristide Maillol).

Of special note about the garden is that the air conditioning, the mechanical systems, electrical systems, generators, etc, are all outside, beneath this park. The noise is well absorbed by the park, and what little escapes is drowned out by the city. But far more important than the worry of noise it might create outside is the fact that it removes that much more potential noise from the inside. Not only does the movement of air itself create sound, but it also distorts it. The entire air reclamation system is a fine tuned work of art in and of itself.

The actual concert hall itself is the rectangular "shoebox" style so popular with accousticians. According to Russell, the shoebox shape was the best one for sound. This did not please Pei, who had little desire to create a box. However, the rule was that inside the concert hall, Russell would have the final word. Outside of the hall, Pei would have the final word. The never-ending series of compromises and arguments between the two resulted in the incredibly unique shape that makes up the Meyerson. Here, looking upwards from outside, we see the corner that begins the shoebox.

There is an incredible story behind this arch. Rather than butcher it by retelling, I'll quote part of the article directly from "D" Magazine's 01 March 2000 issue:

I. M. Pei's building design included a flying, angular arch in front of the Flora Street entrance. Temerlin said to Stone, "This is a lady who is building pyramids to her husband's memory. We should dedicate the arch as the Emery Reves Arch of Peace. It's a stunning architectural design. It can be a peace arch."

Temerlin set about developing a presentation that would persuade Reves to make the major donation the symphony sought. Mullins arranged the appointment, which would take place at Reves' home in Southern France on June 22, 1989.

Stone recalls, "That night, before we met with her, we had a dress rehearsal in Liener's suite. Liener had each page of the proposal blown up to four feet by three feet." Mullins recalls, "We each had a part in the program. Liener was very uptight. I said, 'Liener, she's going to give us two million. I know she is.' 'Well, I don't know she is. I believe in being prepared.' We were prepared."

Reves held Mullins's hand during the meal. Mullins remembers, "We made polite conversation and finished the meal. I thought Liener was going to have a heart attack, he was so cranked up! He wanted to walk in the front door and say, 'Wendy, we're here; let's talk about what you're going to do for the symphony.' Leonard was sitting next to me, fidgety beyond belief, saying in an undertone, 'What d' you think?...

After the meal, Temerlin opened up the conversation after dinner by saying, "Now, Wendy, we've come to visit you with a purpose."

"All right. I'd like to hear what you have to say." Temerlin sat to Wendy's left and began his carefully rehearsed presentation. Wendy sat at the table with one hand on her forehead, the other hand in Bette

Mullins's, ready to listen--but not to look.

"Wendy had her hand on her brow the whole time I was reading," declares Temerlin. "She never looked up."

Stone set up the easel and ascertained that the five pages of blowups were in order. Temerlin started reading. "Here we have it on a board."

Reves interrupted. "I don't want to see that. You just tell me what you have in mind." Temerlin went through the proposal: the Arch of Peace, the reprints of Emery's book, the musical composition and recording. As he drew to the end of the presentation, he concluded by saying, "From everything I've read about Emery, I believe this is something that Emery would be very pleased to see happen."

"So this would be the Wendy and Emery Reves Arch of Peace?"

"That's right," agreed Temerlin.

"Well, I don't want my name on it. I just want it to be Emery's."

In a chorus, they all protested, "No, Wendy, your name needs to be on there, too. This arch will greet everyone who comes to the hall. This is the face of the Meyerson. It will look to the museum."

Reves pondered for a moment. "All that sounds interesting. For two million dollars?"

"Yes," said Temerlin, "and we'll do all these-

"I don't want to hear that!" Reves interrupted again. For a moment she didn't move, then she squeezed Mullins's hand and said, "I will do it."

At that instant, a deafening clap of thunder split the summer night as lightning cracked outside. For a split second, everything was illuminated as if it were daytime. "It was like a Cecil B. DeMille movie!" Temerlin remembers. "The French doors were open, and winds blew the curtains parallel to the floors. And it rained like hell. It was as if the whole thing was staged. I had goosebumps. I got caught up in the whole mystique and magic of the evening, as did we all."

Wendy glanced upward, lifting her arms, and beamed, "Poochie is pleased." (Poochie is her nickname for Emery.) Leonard Stone echoed her sentiments and those of the rest of the table. "God in His Heaven is approving, too." Wendy Reves rose to close the windows and protect the room from the rain, which was coming down in sheets. She called for another bottle of Dom Perignon, and they toasted the occasion again.

(source: "
MORT: MORT MEYERSON GETS RECRUITED, THE". D Magazine. 24 Jul, 2009. <>)

A second entrance primary entrance technically exists for those wishing to drive directly to the lower floor. The underground location helps suppress the noise as well as allow foot traffic to access the box office and gift shop more easily.

Outside, the lamps one finds will be echoed throughout the interior. The shells are made of Onyx, though a different color of Onyx from the ones inside. The form and theme will remain, however.

At last, we come to the front entrance of the Meyerson. The effect is only slightly marred by the ongoing construction and refurbishing presently taking place. In the next entry, we will examine the interior, starting with the Lobby. (Proceed to Part 2)

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