A new museum is coming to Fort Worth that you thought you might not have known from the renderings. Last week, plans for a National Juneteenth Museum were released on that holiday, the date in 1865 when emancipation was announced in Texas. The project is the brainchild of Opal Lee, the so-called Grandmother of Juneteenth, who walked from Fort Worth to Washington DC in 2016 and at age 89 to rally support for making the day a national holiday. (It was finally in 2021.)
Lee, who is now a sprightly 95, is understandably excited about the proposed $70 million museum, which will be built on Fort Worth’s historic Black Southside, and is expected to open June 10 in 2024. “It’s off the chain,” she told the New York Times† But the design of the museum, by BIG, the firm of Danish child prodigy Bjarke Ingels, immediately aroused skepticism in the architecture world. Why was Ingels, a white architect from Copenhagen, chosen in the first place? And then Chris Daemmrich, an advocate for racial equality in design, noted on Twitter that the skyline in the project’s first views wasn’t even Fort Worth, but a dated image of Austin. oops.
To know Ingels’ career is to know how such a mistake can happen. Over the past ten years, he has evolved from the shadow of his mentor, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, into an architectural phenomenon. disguise. In the past two months alone, BIG has won competitions for a new opera house in Prague and an airport in Zurich, announced plans for a gastronomic center in Spain and opened a headquarters for Google in Silicon Valley. Oh, and Ingels also found time to speak about the future of the planet at the Vatican. Is it any wonder his company can confuse a few relatively small towns in Texas?
According to the architects, the design, with a series of asymmetrically aligned gables that face a central courtyard (imagine: a collection of donut-shaped shotgun houses), is a response to Fort Worth’s local residential architecture. “It will have a handmade quality,” Douglass Allgood, the architect responsible for the project for BIG, told the Time† Allgood, it should be noted that it’s Black, and BIG is working with Irving-based KAI Enterprises, an African-American-owned company that will serve as the project’s architect.
In any case, the Fort Worth landmark the museum most resembles is Panther Hall, the demolished concert space (originally a bowling alley) made famous as a country music venue, recognizable by its roofline of staggered gables.
That would set an odd precedent for a museum celebrating emancipation, but then Fort Worth has a history of unusual architectural inspiration. The vaulted roofs of Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Museum are said to have been derived from the barns of the adjacent Will Rogers Memorial Center.
The Kimbell is just one of Forth Worth’s exceptional works of museum architecture, and certainly “Ms. Opal” and Juneteenth deserve a work of that extraordinarily high standard. BIG is off to a shaky start right now.