from historic beijing to high in the swiss alps, james turrell has created more than 80 ‘skyspaces’ across the globe. now, after being first conceived more than three decades ago, a new skyspace is set to open. to be housed within a concrete water tower as part of the massachusetts museum of contemporary art (MASS MoCA), the work will be the artist’s largest free-standing circular piece to date — 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter and 40 feet (12m) high — with a capacity for 50 viewers.

james turrell skyspace MASS MoCA
water tank exterior, future site of skyspace | image by will mclaughlin

set to open on may 29, 2021, the skyspace will join a long-term exhibition of turrell works at MASS MoCA, which includes one work from each of the six decades of the artist’s career. skyspaces are rooms or buildings that frame the sky as a canvas with infinite depth. seemingly bringing the sky closer to the viewer, the works function as naked-eye observatories of the sky which encourage a focused contemplation of light and space.

james turrell skyspace MASS MoCA
interior of james turrell, within without, 2010. national gallery of australia, canberra | image by john gollings

‘this skyspace was first conceived 33 years ago, when turrell toured the MASS MoCA campus and identified the remains of an abandoned concrete water tank as an ideal site for the development of a skyspace,’ explains joseph thompson, founding director of MASS MoCA. ‘in many ways, this story exemplifies MASS MoCA’s commitment to supporting artists and their careers over time, and to working with them to realize their dreams, no matter how big or ambitious.’

james turrell skyspace MASS MoCA
james turrell, piz uter, 2005. walter a. bechtler-stifung for hotel castell, zuoz, switzerland | image by florian holzherr
read more about this project on designboom here

the concrete water tank that houses the skyspace was used by the previous occupants of the MASS MoCA factory campus as a source of standby fire protection for the 16-acre, 28-building mill complex. ‘the work’s simplicity and raw industrial materials are in keeping with my earlier works of the 1970s and 80s, which I guess is not surprising, since that’s when this project was first conceived,’ notes turrell.

james turrell skyspace set to open inside MASS MoCA's concrete water tower
james turrell skyspace, structure & rendering | image © james turrell, structure & rendering by darryl cowie

turrell’s initial idea has been amplified by the addition of contemporary state-of-the art lighting technology, precise programmable controls, and a highly sophisticated electromechanical roof dome fabricated from lightweight composite materials that provide complete light and weather sealing. during dusk and dawn, the aperture will be opened and the space will be exposed to the sky, with subtle interior lighting that complements the change in natural light during sunset and sunrise. during the day, the dome will be sealed and will be transformed into a tightly controlled multisensory environment, with light projected across the cylindrical interior walls and domed ceiling and sound altered by the contours of the architecture.

james turrell skyspace set to open inside MASS MoCA's concrete water tower
james turrell skyspace, structure & rendering | image © james turrell, structure & rendering by darryl cowie

the skyspace is being co-fabricated by the museum’s own fabrication team and the australia-based DCG design and darryl cowie. architectural support is being provided by bruner/cott, who worked on all phases of MASS MoCA’s development. alongside the opening of skyspace, MASS MoCA will present a small, focused show of behind-the-scenes ‘making of’ drawings, including hand sketches, used in the development of the skyspace. this exhibition will feature turrell and cowie’s drawings alongside architectural renderings from bruner/cott.

james turrell skyspace set to open inside MASS MoCA's concrete water tower
joe’s field during freshgrass festival 2014, with the water tank at far back right, with installation by marko remec
image by caleb blansett

the skyspace joins nine other large-scale immersive light and space installations, nine holograms, and multiple models on quasi-permanent view in MASS MoCA’s building 6. on may 29, 2021, MASS MoCA will also open an exhibition of turrell’s lapsed quaker ware, followed by an opening on may 30 of a simultaneous presentation of the ceramics collection at hancock shaker village. this series of basalt tableware was designed and made in a collaboration between turrell and irish potter nicholas mosse of kilkenny, ireland. the skyspace at MASS MoCA is set to open on may 29, 2021.

project info:

name: MASS MoCA skyspace
location: north adams, massachusetts
institution: MASS MoCA
design: james turrell
architectural support: bruner/cott
fabrication: MASS MoCA’s fabrication team / DCG design and darryl cowie
status: opening on may 29, 2021

philip stevens I designboom

feb 25, 2021