On June 14 Rice University in Houston, Texas, will officially unveil its new James Turrell skyspace to the public. On Sunday night, in anticipation of the opening, Record got a sneak peek of the work, which Turrell has dubbed “Twilight Epiphany,” and was treated to a viewing of the sunset light show that is projected onto the space’s imposing white canopy.
Anchoring the western end of the central quad, the 100-foot-square skyspace emerges from the earth (or lands from the heavens, depending on how you see it) in front of the monolithic Shepherd School of Music. It is composed of a 12-foot-high grass berm formed into a truncated pyramid and is topped with a 72-foot-square floating roof (made of a specially engineered composite with a carbon steel knife-edge), with a 14-foot square aperture at its center. The lower level seating area accommodates 44 and features Turrell’s trademark benches, made of pink and gray Texas granite. Poured-concrete benches on the upper level viewing area, where the LEDs are installed, provide additional seating for 76.
Made possible by a gift from Rice trustee and art-history alumna Suzanne Deal Booth, the skyspace is Turrell’s first to be engineered for acoustics (the artist worked with the music school to develop the concept, says the school’s dean), and will host a variety of performances, some of them specially made for the space.
New York City-based Thomas Phifer and Partners served as the architect for the project. The pairing seems a natural choice. Indeed, says university art director Molly Hipp Hubbard, Turrell was inspired by Phifer’s Brochstein Pavilion [Record, March 2009, page 84] which also sits on the central quad, a few hundred yards to the east, on axis with the new artwork.
Starting in June, “Twilight Epiphany” will present two daily lightshows programmed to correspond with sunrise and sunset and will, no doubt, become the new campus hot-spot for students and others wishing to expand their minds in whole new ways.
The green of the grass reflects off the ceiling.
Looking east toward a fountain and the Brochstein pavilion beyond.
LEDs are embedded in the low walls surrounding the opening on the upper level. Rice University's neighbor to the south, the Texas Medical Center, is visible in the distance.