• The uniform charcoal aesthetic blends away the exposed MEP systems and highlights a number of unique light fixtures, including adjustable spoon lights.

A new condo in Dallas’ Museum Tower is helping revise the building’s reputation as an embodiment of high-design refinement.

Architect Olson Kundig
Interior Design
Emily Summers Design Associates
General Contractor Constructional Zone International
Lighting Design Studio Lumina
Acoustic Engineer Stantec
Gizmo Design KB Architectural Services

It has been six years since the completion of Museum Tower, yet the building still remains attached to one of Dallas’ most contentious development and architectural controversies. Here we are in 2020, and the reflected glare cast by the building upon the nearby Nasher Sculpture Center and its surroundings has yet to be remedied. However, with continued development around the site and along the Klyde Warren strip, the tower’s sensuous form is becoming integral to the fabric of the city. Glare aside, Museum Tower seems to have finally found its sense of belonging. And so, too, its residents.

After a long period of minimal occupancy rates, Museum Tower now proudly boasts that “fewer than 15 units remain.” While Dallas’ continuous growth and the public’s short memory have helped the building overcome its initially tainted reputation and start moving units, these considerations have distracted from an assessment of the tower’s design qualities and interior spatial features. But one of the building’s units, a third of the way up the 42-story elevation, serves as a prime example of its potential. Designed by Olson Kundig, the condo is clearly evocative of the Seattle-based firm’s approach, yet it is also an outgrowth of the Museum Tower’s core and shell. The unit also gives a glimpse into the demographic of the building and its surroundings, one that is quickly becoming an enclave for professionals and families alike. “You have a core that basically bifurcates the floor plate, so we had to be strategic about the layering of space and how we divided the space,” says Tom Kundig, FAIA. 

At 8,870 sf, the unit is large enough to dwarf the average Highland Park home, its size visually expanded further by ample views on all sides. Using the spine of the tower as a driver, spaces are woven through a central, linear set of circulation paths and a central service core. Radiating from this path, functions splay outward to welcome and frame views of the city. The larger, more public of rooms occupy three corners of the floor plan for ample connection to views and the terraces at each end of the plan’s slimmer points. Bedrooms occupy the deeper portions of the plan to accommodate the necessary supportive elements such as bathrooms and closet space. “We had to think about all the different ways pieces of a home work — public and private, intimate and gathering, plus all of the interstitial spaces and connections between those,” Kundig says. “Then we had to consider the different configurations of people who would be using the space — adults, children, guests — now and in the future. There was a lot of programmatic layering to figure out how to break up this large floor plate into different districts within the apartment, which I think worked pretty well here.”

The conversation between volume and articulation of finishes and fabrication is what gives the space its innate sense of balance and experience. Kundig refers to this as a “yin and yang” between the experience of the apartment and the city itself. From either of the two elevator bay approaches, entry into the unit is through a custom door, with one end conceived as a two-part interlocking puzzle. From the core, 12-ft-high spaces are unified throughout with a dark, charcoal tone; MEP systems therefore blend into the composition. Overhead, corrugated metal “clouds” define larger spaces within the home as well as five custom-designed, adjustable blackened steel “spoon lights.” Within this darker environment, the walnut casework serves as a visual thread, working together with black terrazzo floors and dark bronze window mullions to create what Kundig describes as “an interior refuge against the exposure of full-surround window walls.”

As a hallmark of Olson Kundig’s work, the unit comes to life in its ability to enhance and identify the unique experiential qualities of the space through active fabricated elements. “Materiality and fabrication are a big part of the work I’ve been doing for many years,” Kundig says. “Those components are really important to me on every project.” The “quiet room” is a noted example: Within the composition of this intimate gathering space, a blackened steel wall can be raised into the ceiling by means of a hand-cranked wheel, revealing a jewel-box bar. Red accents within the bar carry over to other discovered spaces within the home.

What Olson Kundig has been able to do with this home is translate Museum Tower’s bold sculptural form into the human-scaled realm. It’s refreshing to finally see something come of Museum Tower aside from the controversy it initially generated.

Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is an associate at CallisonRTKL.

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