The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) was started by Richard Brettell, the chair of the Art and Aesthetic Studies program at The University of Texas at Dallas, and former director of the DMA. It has on offer the museum’s complete slide library in digital format, the product of a seven-year, $7 million archiving project. Housed in a room adjacent to the DMA’s Mayer Library, where the physical slides used to be stored, it is a resource for select scholars, curators, and students of Brettell’s program at UT Dallas. Visitors come with a laptop, log in to the Institute’s server, and are granted access to every image in the DMA’s collection.
The Institute features four offices for scholars and their assistants, four study carrels for grad students, a conference area for presentations and classes, and a comfortable lounge. Buchanan Architecture’s approach was to make the space sympathetic with the DMA building, which was designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. As a result, the architects employed a rigid 2-ft grid and simple geometric forms — namely, the circle.
The design also strives to alleviate the compressive nature of the interior volume, which is 26 ft by 50 ft with an 8-ft-high ceiling, above which is a vast array of ductwork that could not be relocated. The answer to that problem was a mirror-finished stainless-steel ceiling surrounded by a 12-in reveal, where bright white LED lighting is concealed. “It’s a perfect cube being seen in reflection,” says Russell Buchanan, AIA. “It creates an illusion of the space that’s contained, so when you walk in, you feel like you’re in a big room.” The perimeter of the floor also features a 12-in section of mirrored stainless steel, registering the reveal and causing the wall to appear as though it drops away to infinity.