New Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is glass-covered hurricane-proof "fortress"

7:20 AM, Aug 20, 2010   |    comments
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  • The new Salvador Dali Museum is shown during construction in this photo from HOK + Beck Group.
  • "Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man" by Salvador Dali is on display at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- The Salvador Dali Museum will soon have a new home that's part tourist attraction and part Fort Knox. Glass covers a lot of the new building, but it's hurricane proof. How does that work?

Salvador Dali's art is celebrated for its surrealism. But the threat of its destruction by a hurricane is as real as it gets.

"The building is a fortress," architect Yann Weymouth proudly declared, holding his hard hat under his arm as construction workers hammered and drilled in the next room.

Weymouth's team from the firm HOK started with the unusual step of putting all of the art up high, on the 2nd and 3rd floors, above the nearly thirty-foot storm surge of a category 5 hurricane.

"That means 165 mile an hour winds -- the potential of yachts from the basin smashing into the building," Weymouth said.

The structure is designed to withstand the winds of a category 5 storm. The roof is 12-inch thick solid concrete. The walls are even thicker, at 18 inches.

Even the glass, which makes up big sections of the outside of the museum, can hold up to a category 3 hurricane.

If that glass breaks, letting rain, wind, and debris into the facility, the art will still be safe, Weymouth said. Storm doors will shield the galleries on the third floor, and the vault, which is on the second floor.

Even the data and security systems are protected against a category 5 hurricane.

Why so many major steps? Weymouth says it's because even "priceless" isn't a strong enough word to describe the art that will be housed here.

The estimated value of the collection "doesn't matter," the architect said.

"You cannot replace any of the paintings because Salvador Dali did them, years ago, and he's not here anymore."

The winding, bending building under construction next to the Mahaffey Theater will house the largest collection of Dali art outside of his native Spain.

The museum considered renovating its current facility -- a converted warehouse that's been home to the art since 1982 -- but the decision was made to build something brand new.

The number one reason the museum went with the plan to build a stunning new building is to protect the works of art from washing away.

The new Dali Museum is set to open its well-protected doors on January 11, 2011.

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