Photo © Craig Smith


Art is at the heart of the architecture of the recently completed HOK-designed shuttle stations serving the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Among the half-dozen works on view, Blue Stratus, a luminous ceiling installation, serves as a bold entrance to this major new point of access to the airport.

The massive 150-by-40-foot work, a steel grid frame adorned with 6,610 reflective blue aluminum panels, is mounted to a braced steel support system above a ground-floor atrium where passengers wait to catch a train to the airport or transfer to the city's light-rail system.

“We're interested in the underlying stories of a place,” says architect Mario Madayag, who conceived the competition-winning scheme with artist Michael Parekowhai after they learned from a local exhibit that Arizona's desert was once ocean. “That became the inspiration for the work, along with Arizona's big blue sky.”

The designers wanted to re-create the sensation of being at the bottom of a swimming pool and watching light ripple above. “They merged the idea of being underwater with being under the sky,” says Edward Lebow, the director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture Public Art Program, which commissioned the piece in collaboration with the Aviation Department Percent-for-Arts program as part of an ongoing $1.5 billion airport-infrastructure project.

To enhance reflective qualities, the designers installed 20 color-changing LED fixtures above the piece and programmed them to match the six shades of blue used for the panels. Each fixture has a dedicated time sequence that varies in color and intensity throughout the day. “The piece always looks different,” says lighting designer Paul Deeb, who used a Color Kinetics playback controller to establish the schedules. “There's never any repetition—though at night, the colors are deeper and more saturated, and, during the day, brighter.” In the evening, four white LED downlights, positioned at the center of the work, evoke the aura of light filtering through water or clouds.

The lowest-hanging aluminum panels, reflective on one side and blue on the other, are loosely bolted to the grid and sway gently in the wind. “You can actually watch the wind move across the piece—like wind moving across water,” says Deeb.

At night, a blue glow permeates the sky beyond the station, visible to passengers arriving on the train. “There is a really lovely purple-blue haze,” says Lebow. “It has a resonance that is kind of surprising.”


Formal name of building:
PHX Sky Train, 44th Street Station

Phoenix, Arizona

Completion Date:
April 2013

Gross square footage:
150' x 40'

Total construction cost:

Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture

City of Phoenix, Phoenix Airport Museum

Mario Madayag
5857 NE 180 Street, Kenmore, WA 98028
(425) 320-8823

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Mario Madayag, Director and partner in charge (Registered Architect);
Michael Parekowhai, artist partner;
Sang Kim, designer;
Sajeev Ruthra, 3D modeler, 3D printing and rendering.

Engineers (structural, civil, mechanical, etc.):
PARAGON Structural Design Inc., DINTER (electrical engineering).

Lighting: Paul Deeb, Vox, in collaboration with Mario Madayag and Michael Parekowhai, project team

Fabrication & Installation: Paul Deeb, Vox (aluminum reflector panels), and CAID (suspended Unistrut metal framing system)

Craig Smith Photographer

Design Team: 

Mario Madayag, Michael Parekowhai, Paul Deeb


6,000 square feet

Construction cost:

$1.4 million

Completion date:

April 2013



Structural system
Eberl Iron Works: suspended “Unistrut” metal framing system.

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: Unistrut

Interior finishes
Suspension grid: Eberl Iron Works Unistrut metal framing system

Paints and stains: Sherwin-Williams

Altman Lighting:
Fixture Type: A, 100-Watt White Light LED Spectra Par - SSW-PAR100
Fixture Type: B, 100-Watt Spectra Par 100

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Suspended from a “Unistrut” metal framing system, the work was made with 6,610 uniquely shaped aluminum reflector panels. To heighten their atmospheric effects, they were painted six shades of blue and designed to move in the breeze. The team programmed the lights above the work to create a slowly changing tableau of rich color.