Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida

This week marked the grand opening for the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The new building‘s 68,000 sqf doubles the size of the original one storey warehouse Dali Museum built in 1982.

This week marked the grand opening for the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, which houses the largest collection outside Europe of the works of the famous artist. The new building’s 68,000 sqf doubles the size of the original one storey warehouse Dali Museum built in 1982. The new building was designed to reflect the Spanish artist’s surreal style. Princess Cristina of Spain, one of the dignitaries present, said the museum was “state of the art”.

“The city of St Petersburg gains a landmark and outstanding beacon of cultural beauty,” she said. The museum’s collection, begun by a couple from Ohio in 1942, consists of more than 96 oil paintings and 2,000 other pieces. Dali, a classically trained painter, was renowned for his surrealist paintings of melting clocks and long-legged elephants. Works from every period of his career are represented in the museum, according to its guide.

Utilizing free-form geodesic geometry, the triangulated glass organically flows around and attaches to the rigid unfinished concrete box, a play of hard and soft, protecting Dali’s paintings and simultaneously providing natural daylight and openness to the adjacent bay. This is the first use of this type of free-form geodesic geometry in the United States.

Mesmerizing visitors within the museum is the coiled concrete form that greets them at the reception desk. The poured in place raw concrete spiral staircase is fitted with light cable-stayed stainless steel guardrails. The material choices provide a subtle juxtaposition along with an obvious nod to Dali’s allure with the double helix and other spiral forms in nature.

“We constantly consider the visitor experience when we design a museum. A large number of people visiting a museum will be there for the first time. The architecture must be extremely easy to understand. It can be quite adventurous and stimulating, but the circulation pathways should be clear from the moment visitors arrive at the building, “ shared Yann Wymouth design director for HOK Florida. HOK’s design concept is drawn directly from the building’s purpose. It is inspired both by Dalí’s surrealist art and by the practical need to shelter the collection from the hurricanes that threaten Florida’s west coast.

“Salvador Dalí was a monumental pioneer of twentieth-century art and this is perhaps the best collection of his work in the world,” said Weymouth. “Our challenge was to discover how to resolve the technical requirements of the museum and site in a way that expresses the dynamism of the great art movement that he led. It is important that the building speak to the surreal without being trite.”

Despite the complex processes required to construct the building, which stands more than 75 feet tall and is adorned by 1,062 unique, triangular glass panels, the $29.8 million building project was completed on time and $700,000 under budget. Construction began in December 2008.

“We deliberately exposed the unfinished faces of the concrete to reduce maintenance and to allow it to be a tough, natural foil to the more refined precision of the glass Enigma,” said Weymouth. “This contrast between the rational world of the conscious and the more intuitive, surprising natural world is a constant theme in Dalí s work.”

“The flowing, free-form use of geodesic triangulation is a recent innovation enabled by modern computer analysis and digitally controlled fabrication that allows each component to be unique,” explained Weymouth. “No glass panel, structural node or strut is precisely the same. This permitted us to create a family of shapes that, while structurally robust, more closely resembles the flow of liquids in nature.”

In the exhibition galleries on the third floor, seven unique suspended black plaster “light cannons” funnel daylight onto the largest of the Dalí masterworks. The art exhibition spaces are connected by a sculptural gallery that appears to magically land in the center of the ‘egg’ skylight, providing ample light and sweeping vistas overlooking Tampa Bay.

The building protects this priceless art collection from hurricane-force winds and water. The fortress-like structure is designed to withstand the 165-mph wind loads of a Category 5, 200-year hurricane. The roof is 12-inch thick, solid concrete and the cast-in-place reinforced concrete walls are 18 inches thick. Located above the flood plane on the third floor, the art is protected from a 30-foot-high hurricane storm surge. Storm doors shield the vault and galleries. Specially developed for this project, the triangulated glass panels are one-and-a-half inches thick, insulated and laminated, and were tested to resist the 135 mph winds, driven rain and missile impacts of a Category 3 hurricane.

Being twice the size of its shed-like 1982 predecessor, a converted warehouse, the new three-story glass and concrete trapezoid structure adds the potential of much needed curatorial clout to the entire Dali enterprise. “We now have the space for the permanent collection,” says museum administrator Hine — the 96 paintings are being shown together for the first time — “ and the space to do anything we desire.” (Dali completed some 700 small-format oil paintings between 1929 and 1939 alone. A Piccaso-Dali pairing is already in the works for the new Dali.)

One young girl visiting the museum understood Surrealism simply but perfectly. She reasoned that Dali had inserted cabinet-like drawers into his clay copy of the Venus de Milo statue — in his Venus with Drawers (1934) — because the artist knew poor Venus couldn’t carry anything around, not having hands. [via Arch Daily]

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