Saturday, July 25, 2009

Photos: Meyerson Symphony Center (Part 2/3)

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 2: The interior of the building that includes the restaurant/bar, the lobby, and other areas generally available to the public that don't include the concert hall.

The first thing to green one as they enter the Meyerson is the Grand Staircase that begins the ascent into the Concert Hall. This is, and will remain the focal point throughout the lobby area, even when it is out of sight. Though it is difficult to tell from this photos, but will become increasingly more obvious, the travertine floor tiles radiate outward from the stairs. The other thing that immediately becomes apparent is the sheer size of the place. It is huge. From the outside, it appears small, even quaint. From street level, one cannot possibly understand just how large this building is, because so little of it faces the main entrance, but it is huge. You could probably fit my entire college campus in it. Seriously.

Glancing left, gives us a nicely framed view of Pei's Fountain Place, which was in no way, shape, or form an accident, though I would not dare to suggest this were in bad form. Every surrounding building of note is beautifully framed by the incredibly sound-resistant windows. Ah! Did I mention how quiet it is inside? Outside, the city noise is so loud one can hardly hear themselves think. Inside, nearly all noise vanishes. Enough so that footsteps may be heard clear across the otherwise quiet building...

...those footsteps being those of my lovely wife, who is framed by the view that I.M. Pei most loved about the place. Down the left-hand hallway, all the way in the back, is a little restaurant and a server-station at the far end. As far as jobs outside of the concert hall proper go, the most prestigious job is the head waitor who works at that wait station, for he or she has the best view of the entire place...even when my wife isn't standing there.

Heading back into the central lobby, a few features become more noticable, such as the large portholes, which I would have liked to know more about. I realize the photo cannot possibly do the size justice, but I'm pretty sure one could literally stand on the ledge and not have their head touch the top of the window.

Since I often find myself walking around staring at the ceiling these days, I noticed this really long, odd-looking bar stretching from one side of the massive inner arch to the other.

When I asked about it, Tom explained that the bar itself was actually a facade to hide the cables attaching the two ends of the arch. Because of the outward thrust that an arch exerts over time, the ceiling would eventually flatten and collapse. The cable keeps the opposite ends from expanding outward. In earlier days, a flying buttress or a heavier wall would be used, but they wanted as much space as possible.

This is, however, a good question about the aesthetic sensibilities of whomever developed this fix. At the absolute minimum, this bar should have been painted to match the roof, so it would blend in much easier. At best, it should have a proper fascade to match the limestone. But this stark, black support is the second ugliest thing in the place.

So what's the first ugliest?

See that little rusty pronged thingy in the middle of the photo? That's the ugliest thing. It was originally thought that additional support would be needed to keep the arches from collapsing over time, and that support would stem from this anchor point. However, it turned out not to be needed. So why was it left? Perhaps they thought they might one day need it, which is all well and good, so why wasn't it covered? Or painted? Or something?

Supposedly there was at one point in time going to be a large tapestry, or series of tapestries draped over the long black crossbar, but this never came to fruition.

I stand corrected. The ugliest thing in the building is actually, this guy standing in front of the Wall of Honor. But at least I leave at night. The rusty anchor doesn't. We have now headed to the right-hand side of the main lobby, and are looking at the large corner that goes downstairs. H. Ross Perot was the largest private donor, giving over $10 million of his own money to build the center. His stipulation was that it be named after his good friend Morton H. Meyerson. Since Meyerson had already been working on the center project, and was well liked by the arts community in general, this seemed like a perfectly rational suggestion, and so Meyerson became the name for this architectural masterwork.

The Wall of Honor is quite beautiful. Most places are content to engrave their donors in some half-hearted fashion on a brick or rock, or a plaque, and are stuck somewhere no one will ever find unless they look for it. Nothing of the sort here; the donor's list is quite the work of art. The materials are important to note, for their quality. The walls are made from Indiana limestone, cut horizontally (not vertically, as is the norm). The floors are highly polished Italian Travertine Tile. The white bannisters atop the limestone are white marble. What little concrete exists here and there to join these parts together is a special architectural blend that matches well with the rest of the colors and is hard to find, much less to notice. The lamp shells are Onyx.

And speaking of the lamps: the original design didn't even call for them. There were various empty spaces that needed something. Hence the birth of these lamps. But they were another unplanned upgrade. The Meyerson was 40% publicly funded, and 60% privately funded. And after construction had begun, and materials got upgraded (such as from brick to limestone), and the lamps got upgraded, and costs began to rise, that was about the time the oil-based economy of Dallas collapsed. At the time, oil was what kept Dallas afloat--not culture. But luckily for everyone involved, all donors involved saw the value, and the potential for what this meant. The Meyerson wasn't just to be a symphony center... it was to be a cultural icon. The sort of place that, decades, perhaps even centuries from now, humanity would look back on with awe and wonder in much the same way that we now look upon the Paris Opera House, or the Sydney Opera House, or Radio City Music Hall. It was the gateway through which Dallas passed from oil glutton to cultured patron of the arts. It was a very wise choice indeed.

Down the stairs the rest of the way is a much more functional, subdued space. Though still quite beautiful, it is much plainer, less expensively made than the floor above it. The reason is that this floor exists only as a space to move from Point A to Point B. To the far right (off-camera) is the parking garage I showed in the exterior photos. Ahead on the right, behind the column, is the box-office. On the left, way in the back, is the gift-shop. To the left (off camera) is the stairs leading up to the lobby. There is otherwise very little reason to be down here.

Back up, and continuing on towards the back, we see that even the desks maintain the same form, material, and quality as the rest of the building. This desk form is repeated at least three times throughout different places in the lobby area. I get the impression that the steel trash cans, much like the shiny matching steel hand rails of the stairs, were not originally part of the plan.

Finally we reach the far right-hand side of the lobby, and looking back, find the entrance has disappeared far off to the right, and in fact, so has the Wall of Honor. Straight ahead, you can just barely make out my wife sitting on a bench. Then let your eyes slowly drift up the photo. If this doesn't give you an idea of the scale of the place, nothing will.

Eventually I get around to heading up the stairs to see what's around, and immediately find the Cathedral Santuario de Guadalupe nicely framed by the window. The whole idea of the building is to be a social field for the surrounding business community to enjoy the finer things in life. Including the site of their own buildings, many of which have won architectural awards as well. Dallas has an incredible number of these. In fact, commit this fact to memory:

Dallas will soon be the only city in the entire world to have Four Pritzker Prize winning buildings in one continuous block.

That's like having four Pulitzer Prize winners all come from the same neighborhood. I honestly never appreciated Dallas in this way before. The per capita number of award winning buildings is such that I cannot help but wonder if one day in the distant future people might look at Dallas architecture the same way that we currently look at Greco-Roman architecture.

On the left-hand side is one of "the razors," incredibly sharp-angled walls that are often photographed. I was more interested int he view the hallway provided.

Speaking of, the other side of the upper balcony gives a great view of "The Dallas Panels" by Ellsworth Kelly. Note how this is really the only color in the place aside from that green tree in Pei's spot. This is very much by design. Pei wanted the eye's attention drawn to the crowds of people. Remember, this was to be a social place. He wanted people's eyes to be looking at each other to find color, contrast, and interest, not the building.

But really, to someone like me, the building is the best part. Unless my wife is there, then she's the best part. But other than her, I'm usually more interested in the building itself rather than the people in it.

And now we proceed to Part 3, the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, and the inner sanctum!

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