Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, an award-winning firm established in Madrid in 1984 by architects Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano, has won its first major U.S. commission out of a closely watched competition seeking design concepts that breathe new (and markedly more accessible and sustainable) life into the Dallas Museum of Art’s 1980s-era campus.
Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos was joined on the competition shortlist by five other formidable (and predominately U.S.-based albeit none of them Texas) firms with a robust assortment of high-profile cultural commissions under their respective belts: Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Johnston Marklee, Michael Maltzan Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi, and David Chipperfield Architects. An Architect Selection Committee (ASC) formed by the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) presided over the final selection, which was then ratified by the museum’s board of trustees. The selection process has been a relatively speedy one, with the Malcolm Reading Consultants–organized competition first launching in February.
Aerial view of DMA campus following proposed refresh. Image © Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
While Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos was decidedly the least familiar name to land on the shortlist (or at least to a stateside audience), the firm’s work has been widely published in Europe and Nieto and Sobejano have received several major international accolades including the Aga Khan Architecture Award (2010) and the Alvar Aalto Medal (2015). A vast majority of Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos’ completed commissions can be found in Spain and in Germany, where the firm operates a Berlin studio; beyond these two countries, the firm has also designed buildings in Estonia, Austria, France, China, Morocco, and beyond. Notable works include the San Telmo Museum in San Sebastian, the Montblanc Haus Exhibition Center in Hamburg, the Contemporary Art Center Córdoba, and the forthcoming Cité du Théâtre in Paris. “Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos is known in international design circles but is possibly a new name for the American public,” ASC co-chairs Jennifer Eagle and Lucilo Peña noted in statement. “Significantly, this will be the firm’s first building in the U.S.”
Rooftop terrace and event space. Image © Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
As for the firm’s winning submission for a refreshed and expanded Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), it was praised for mixing “a poetic sensibility with a dynamic and sustainable design strategy” that “respects the original intentions” of museum architect Edward Larrabee Barnes (a common theme), “all the while preparing us to become a 21st-century museum,” said Gowri N. Sharma, president of the DMA’s Board of Trustees, and Chairman of the Board Jeffrey S. Ellerman in a joint statement. “A transformation to the DMA campus will send a signal that we are inviting everyone near and far to join our vibrant art community.”
First established in 1903 and located at its current home within the city’s now-bustling Arts District since 1984, the DMA is one of the top ten largest art museums in the United States.
According to the museum, the ASC was drawn to Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos’ proposal due in part to the fact that it provided potential solutions to “address circulation, sustainability and gallery expansion while respecting the existing building.” Among other elements, the reimagined DMA campus will include a new “floating” contemporary art gallery on the roof of Barnes’s boxy existing museum building and “rebalanced” north and south facades that “communicate the expression of art via an exterior LED-generated artwork mediated by a perforated surface.”
“The team set out to make their design ‘precise and beautiful’ reflecting the spatial hierarchy and grid arrangement developed by Barnes, embracing nature, and opening up the ground level to achieve transparency and engage with the street,” continued the museum in its announcement. “They propose activating the Ross Avenue entrance with an informal outdoor amphitheater and moving the sculpture garden barrier wall to improve access into the garden.”
Ross Avenue Plaza view. Image © Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
View from Klyde Warren Park (1); rooftop gallery view (2). Images © Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos
“We propose an open, welcoming, accessible, and inclusive museum, improving and adding new spaces for contemporary art collections,”the firm wrote of its concept, which was unveiled to the public just last month along with the other shortlisted design concepts. “The reimagined DMA will be a reflection of the original building, transforming the relationship between art, landscape, and community into a balance of memory and innovation.”
Providing support to Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos on the larger winning team was Atelier Culbert (exhibition design); SWA Group (landscape architect); Arup (MEP, lighting, and sustainability engineer); Bollinger+Grohmann (structural and facade engineer); and PGAL (local architect).
The winning concept will be on view at the DMA through fall as part of a free presentation as well as online at the competition website. A newly formed Master Facilities Plan Task Force will convene for the first-time next month to begin formalizing a path forward, including ironing out a project timeline. As for all-important matters of funding, the DMA noted that the museum throughout its history has “secured funds from private sources for its initiatives and will continue this approach” with the ambitious campus reimagining project while also seeking support from the City of Dallas.