A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

The Dali Museum

Last week I was in the Tampa- St. Petersburg area.  My wife, Sharron had to undergo parathyroid surgery.  In our research, we found out that the Norman Parathyroid Center at Tampa General Hospital was the place to go.  This is not that common a procedure and where we live in Alabama the local hospitals perform this type of surgery rarely.  We figured that we might want to go where they do it on a more routine basis.  At Tampa General’s Parathyroid Center they perform this operation every day.  In fact, it is the only operation they do perform – over 2600 annually with a claimed success rate of 99%.  That sounded pretty good to us, so we decided to go there.  Besides, my wife’s mother lives in nearby St. Petersburg which would provide a convenient place for her to rest up following the procedure.  Recovery is not a long affair.  The operation to cure hyperthyroidism is day-surgery, performed through a small slip at the base of the throat.  After a brief stay in the recovery room, Sharron was free to leave.  Unfortunately, her case was a bit unusual in that her tumor was so old (est. 12 years) that it had time to envelop her vocal cords.  The doctors had to resort to using a microscope and laser to cut away all the tumor and affected parathyroid gland.  Her ability to speak would be impacted, but the doctor assured us that it would improve gradually in time.  Rest was the best cure, so Sharron was instructed not to speak unless necessary and not to attempt to scream.  Every cloud does have a silver lining it seems.

So, while Sharron was convalescing at her mother’s house, I managed to slip out one day to photograph the new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.  I had been to the original Dali museum there several years ago.  In fact, I have also visited the Dali Museum in Figueres, Spain, so I was already pretty familiar with Dali’s surrealistic work.  To be honest, I really was more interested in seeing the new building, an ultra-modern amalgamation of steel, concrete and glass.  As with most museums, cameras are not permitted in the galleries, so I concentrated on the building’s organic exterior and atrium, which I was allowed to photograph.

The Dali Museum's unique combination of glass and concrete

The Dali Museum displays a unique combination of concrete, steel and glass

The Helical Staircase of the Dali pays homage to Dali's fascination with DNA

The Helical Staircase pays homage to Dali’s fascination with DNA

The Dali draws its inspiration from several architectural masterpieces such as the Guggenheim Museum, the National Gallery’s East Wing, the Louvre’s Pyramid and Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Museum to name a few.  But, although it may draw upon these other structures, the Dali is like no other building.  The focal point of the interior is the Helical Staircase, a twisting ribbon of concrete and steel which seems to defy gravity.  It took ten successive pourings of concrete to fabricate these stairs.  The structure gives a nod to Dali’s fascination with the discovery of the DNA molecule.  The staircase has been described as a turbine from which the rest of the museum draws its energy.


A ribbon of concrete winds up from the ticket counter to the skylight

Schoolkids race up the helical staircase towards the galleries

Students race up the staircase towards the galleries

The staircase twists a full two and three-quarters rotations, but the helical spiral keeps going, rising to a point where it almost touches the “dome of the sky.”  The stairs connect to the third floor galleries and the observation platform on the east side of the building which provides a spectacular view of Tampa Bay through its generous use of triangular-shaped glass.

The third floor and viewing area called the Enigma

The third floor galleries and viewing area called the Enigma

Palm trees flank the north elevation of the Dali Museum

Palm trees flank the north elevation of the Dali Museum

The architect’s extensive use of glass may have caused the project developers some anxiety.  After all, this site has seen its share of hurricanes throughout the years.  Would glass pose a threat to the extensive and priceless artwork housed within its walls?  A special double thickness of geodesic glass with an argon insulation was designed for all 1062 separate triangular pieces.  No two pieces of glass are the same size or shape and it is the first major building in the Americas to employ this technology.  It has been thoroughly wind and hurricane tested.  Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome is the basis for the glass chrysalis including the bay vista space called the Enigma.  The glass is self-supporting with hexagonal arrangements of triangles and the Enigma pays homage to the geodesic dome Dali placed over his own theater-museum in Spain.

Visitors walk past the north facade where a giant boulder supports one corner of the museum

Visitors walk past the north facade where a giant boulder supports one corner of the museum

Although the structure is an architectural wonder and succeeds in looking like no other, it functions well but is not overwhelming.  The galleries are smartly laid out with ample room for the extensive collection and pieces do not seem crowed even though some of Dali’s works are truly massive, including a pixelated portrait of Abraham Lincoln which one must view from sixty feet away in order to discern.  The building houses not only art galleries but an auditorium, classroom, cafe and one of the largest museum shops I have ever seen.  It sells Dali posters, prints, postcards, t-shirts and everything else related to the Spanish master.  Equal care was paid to the design of the grounds which incorporate a number of innovations, creating some unique outdoor spaces such as a labyrinth and a fountain of youth.  Large metamorphic stones brought from Dali’s native Catalonia dot the landscape and are strategically placed to lead the way for the art lover into the magnificent building.

The museum seems to glow at night

The museum seems to glow at night

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Architecture, Dali Museum, Engineering, Florida, Photography, Spain, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments