James Turrell’s New Shrine to Light and Sound Opens at Rice

That new vaguely Mayan looking mound with the flat roof suspended above it at the head of Rice University’s forlorn upper quad is artist James Turrell’s latest Skyspace — one of only 73 in various incarnations he’s made so far, and the the second in Houston. But it’s the first Skyspace designed for music — the kind you’d want to listen to while staring through a 14-ft.-by-14-ft. opening in a raised roof at the darkening sky around sundown, or a lightening one at dawn.

In advance of any unique OMG-the-sky-is-changing-color experiences you might have while sitting in it, the structure has been named Twilight Epiphany. It sits just outside the east entrance of Rice’s Shepherd School of Music. A sold-out, silent performance in the space last night marked the space’s public opening. Last month, the new structure, designed by Turrell with New York architects Thomas Phifer and Partners, posed for a photo shoot with photographer Karen Dressel:


An array of computer-controlled LEDs at the top of the mound projects a 40-minute light show on the underside of the roof, matched — for the audience inside — against that single lot of aerial real estate:

Dawn and dusk light shows are planned daily; A website set up by Rice shows the schedules — and a continuous countdown clock showing the time till the next performance. No skateboards, please.

Photos: Karen Dressel

16 Comment

  • I’ll go ahead and second, third and fourth the wow. Can’t wait to go.

  • A hurricane is going to have a grand old time playing frisbee with that…

  • Can anybody comment on the hurricane issue? It looks flimsy, but that doesn’t mean anything. Of course, the architects accounted for this possiblity. Right?

  • James Turrell is a visionary and national treasure, this man takes every nook and cranny of these works into account, so I cannot imagine that the architect/engineering firm he hired would have somehow just missed the fact that we are in a hurricane zone. Structures should be designed to withstand 120MPH sustained winds, and 156MPH gusts (AASHTO 2001), in our area, that increases as you move closer to the coast. It does look like the support structure is light-weight, but I am sure that it was designed properly, otherwise the engineer who stamped the drawing is in big trouble if that thing takes lift off and slices up some stuff.

  • …and, yes this looks amazing, Houston should be proud to have (3) Turrell works here in Houston, the one in Dallas at the Nasher Sculpture Center had to close when a high-rise next door went up and wreaked havoc on the view, as well as the center’s gallery spaces.

  • What amazing pictures. I don’t know if it is just the pictures that look awesome or if it looks that cool in person. I thought it was silly when I heard about it, but now after looking through the pictures I understand the appeal!

  • Is James Turrell the artist who designed the walkway between the MFAH’s Law and Beck buildings?

  • Wow? – I don’t see it.
    Amazing? – Hardly
    Work of art? – Sure, but nothing earth shattering.

    Colored lights? – Big deal. the lights under I45 downtown and in the Med Center have been changing colors for years.

    I just don’t see what the big deal is.

  • Bubba–It not meant to be experienced from outside (as you see in the photos). The idea is that when you sit inside at sunset, that changing colors of the white ceiling cause an intense visual effect in the hole–the sky itself seems to change colors. I haven’t witnessed it in person yet. Maybe it won’t live up to the hype. But keep in mind that work like this is inherently difficult to photograph, although they make a pretty valiant effort in the photos above.

  • I watched this thing go up over the last year. The super-structure looks weightless, as intended, but it’s got a skeleton of massive steel beams.

    And to me this work IS amazing. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried sitting in there and watching the sky as the lights change.

  • Ooooh…aaaaaah….zzzzzzz.

  • i want to go there when it is raining.

  • I will be returning to my hometown next month and am looking forward to visiting my alma mater and seeing this incredible addition.

  • Reminds of the changing color light window boxes @ the Whole Foods Market on W.Dallas & Waugh Dr. in North Montrose.