Friday, October 26, 2012

Joe vs. the Volcano

What more is to say about the Museum Tower vs. Nasher Sculpture Center other than what's already been said?  Well, I guess what I'm about to write.  All of the major local (oxymoron?) media outlets have had their say and described the basics since the most recent news of well respected mediator Tom Luce stepping down out of frustration.  And nothing is wrong with what they've said either.  It's good background.

Here is what matters.  Mediation was never going to work.  Nor should it have.  Going to court always was inevitable, not only given the two entrenched sides bickering over petty architectural snobbery, but because of the necessity of the battle as a precedent in zoning law.

And this moment, dare I say opportunity for greater long-term good, only arises due to the private power behind the Nasher.  If that was your house getting roasted by the tower, the developers and the city would collude to have your property condemned and then thrown a bbq around the newly ablaze roof roasting under the museum's open fire.  OK, maybe not, but it's funny because you know you can't be too certain that wouldn't be the case.

And roast it is, as I essentially predicted when two years ago I proposed a column to D magazine about the similar effect the various glass towers have on the public realm in the hot Texas summer sun (Fountain Place in particular, oddly enough, there is history between these two buildings).  Except, at the time I didn't have the handheld weather station equipment I now do so we didn't have adequate, objective data (tall, reflective glass buildings are a bad idea in a hot, sunny, windy climate. Who knew?!).  Now an issue which should have been raised long ago finally gets the chance to see the light of day.

Only it took a museum to be roasted to make a difference rather than a public sidewalk.  Because who cares about those, amirite?  It's only the most important element of a city's daily vitality other than or perhaps in conjunction with the intersection.

The odd thing is the public seems mostly on the side of the Nasher even though their "stake" is effectively with the Police and Fire pension (bad business deal in the first place aside).  In effect, the city essentially owns any failure in the Museum Tower, but also owns the land under the Nasher Museum.  So beyond the obvious reasons, the Mayor is right to want to find some form of amicable win-win.

However, at this point the only way is for everyone to just accept their fate.  This is going to court and as long as we get some form of precedent based on how much one property is allowed to adversely effect another building for noxious uses heretofore unregulated such as solar gain (but the building is LEED sumpin' sumpin' or other!) or wind shear off the tall building.

My guess is, legally, the Nasher at present has few, if any legs to stand on other than deep pockets.  Today.  But if we're all to win, perhaps the Nasher might have to fall in its sword, put some form of semi-translucent film or membrane over its custom roof structure to maintain the natural, refracted light effect originally intended.  However, that doesn't address the issue with the garden.  So, perhaps the Museum Tower should apply a similar non-reflective film to its windows (c'mon it's not world class because of the windows - otherwise Vancouver has 100 of these towers with better, more urban, interactive bases.  And if everything is world class, is anything world class?).  Otherwise, it's a giant beach umbrella with a middle finger imprinted on it.

There you have it.  Both have to make minor, relatively cheap, non-structural alterations.  We get some form of ruling and precedent from court up on high for how much we're willing to allow the post-card view of object buildings ruin the actual life of a city.  Win-win...somewhat.  That still doesn't solve the mis-management of the Police and Fire pension getting involved in financing a $200 million condo tower with but 100 units in it for the super rich that may or may not exist or have any interest in living there.  And that gross negligence is the other real issue worth addressing (while they blame their own predictable failings on everyone but themselves. How predictable.).