The Salvador Dalí Museum by HOK

Posted on Apr 01 2011

Salvador Dalí is considered one of the greatest exponents of the Surrealist art movement of all time. The creative genius had fused together hypnotic visions with meticulous verisimilitude, giving representations of dreams a tangible, credible reality. Now, with the opening of the new Salvador Dalí Museum by HOK, the threshold between rational and irrational has been blurred – a mix of art and science, the real and unbelievably surreal. A seemingly ‘Dalí-esque’ building, the new museum is not a literal translation that imitates art – this is architecture that complements it.

On a dramatic waterfront site in St. Petersburg, Florida, the new Salvador Dalí Museum houses more masterworks from the artist than any other world collection (outside of Spain). Oil paintings, watercolours, sketches and sculptures are showcased from a 2140-piece permanent collection. The 68,000-square-foot structure doubles the size of its previous home, a onestorey warehouse built adjacent in 1982.

HOK had designed the museum to speak of the essence of Dalí while incorporating functional elements that responded to Florida’s unforgiving weather. An area prone to storms, hurricanes and the likes, art is kept above the flood plane between monumental 18-inch-thick in situ concrete walls.

The heaviness of the concrete alludes to a protective ‘treasure box’ – a raw 58-foot-high monolith broken only by the counterpoint of an organic, triangulated glass system called the “Enigma”. The tension between the concrete and free-flowing glass is seen as a direct contrast between the rational world of consciousness and the more fantastical worlds found in the subconscious – a recurring theme in Dalí’s work.

The glass Enigma has a specific connection to Dalí. He was a great admirer of Buckminster Fuller, an American futurist engineer who developed the geodesic glass dome. With recent innovations in modern technology, more specifically Building Information Modelling and digitally controlled fabrication, HOK were able to take Dalí’s love for sculptural architecture to the next level. Every single glass panel, structural node and strut is inherently unique, allowing for flowing liquid forms organically found in nature. The Salvador Dalí Museum is the first building in the United States to utilise this type of free-form geodesic geometry.

A sensuous spiral staircase of off-form concrete references Dalí’s fascination with DNA, the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series. The stairs form the focal point of the museum’s 75-foothigh glass atrium which leads visitors from the ground level entry to the third floor galleries. The stairs were designed as a structural tour de force, a masterly innovation using the concrete spiral as a tensioned spring system held together by the ground and third floor.

The finesse of HOK’s architecture does great justice to Dalí’s masterworks – the building does not overpower the work it lovingly holds, it illuminates and celebrates it appropriately. Exhibition galleries on the museum’s third floor house seven suspended ‘light cannons’ that funnel indirect light onto the largest of the Dalí treasures. Spatial interplays in the gallery draw people back to the centre of the museum, under the ‘egg’ skylight that curves from the roof down to the ground floor, giving sweeping vistas to Tampa Bay beyond and the sky above.

The Salvador Dalí Museum takes into account Ecologically Sustainable Design principles that are increasingly important in recent years. Several strategies were undertaken to save energy, water and operational costs. From the outset, the building was sited to avoid excessive solar gain from low-angled western sun. Water is heated through two solar collectors on its roof, while water efficient fixtures were specified throughout the entire project. Lights and other services are turned off when not in use via new automated systems. The overall concrete structure of the museum is high in thermal mass and acts as a natural heat sink to regulate temperatures.

The underlying success of the Salvador Dalí Museum is in the fact that the architecture has captured the spirit of the artist. Whimsical, surreal, sensuous and sublime, HOK’s museum has become an integrated work of art in itself – but not without drawing appropriate light onto the works for which it was made. This is what makes it a cohesive whole. +


IMAGES Courtesy HOK/Moris Moreno

1. The new museum within its site sits adjacent to the old museum, a warehouse built in 1982. 2. A winding spiral staircase references Dalí’s fascination with DNA and the golden ratio. 3. The building was designed to withstand Florida’s weather prone to storms and hurricanes. 4. Loose informal furniture scatted in the foyer. 5. The gallery draws people to an atrium with a sensuous skylight which curves from the roof down to the ground floor.