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$6 million Turrell Skyspace to be constructed

By Rucy Cui     3/17/11 7:00pm

Students approaching the Shepherd School of Music from the east will soon have a new view. The Suzanne Deal Booth Pavilion and James Turrell Skyspace is a pyramid-shaped structure that will begin construction in front of the east entrance of the Shepherd School on April 4.

Alumna Suzanne Deal Booth (Hanszen '77) is funding the entire project with a donation of about $6 million in honor of Rice's upcoming centennial.

James Turrell, who is designing the skyspace, also designed spaces in downtown Houston at the Live Oak Friends Meeting House and the Museum of Fine Arts.



Turrell also has a background in music. According to Rice Art Program Director Molly Hubbard, the skyspace will be the only one of its kind in the world with the intention of being used for musical performances. It should be completed by the beginning of November, though Hubbard said it may actually end up opening nearer the end of November.

"It's a gift," Hubbard said. "As a public piece of artwork, it's going to be accessible to everyone. It'll definitely shine the light on Rice internationally."

According to Hubbard, the skyspace will be situated on a raised grass hill so that people will be able to walk through it into a covered tunnel inside, where there will be space for 30 to 40 people to sit on benches. The second floor will have standing room for 60 to 70 people, along with a panel in the ceiling to display the sky and frame an LED display for shows at sunrise and sunset.

The skyspace will be outfitted for musical performances by small ensembles. According to Shepherd School Dean Robert Yekovich, speakers will be installed behind the walls and composers will be able to interface with skyspace to create multimedia works with music and light.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity to have the visual arts on campus so near the performing arts and I think the skyspace will also be a nice intersection for the visual and performing arts at Rice," Yekovich said.

Yekovich said that the space was designed with acoustics in mind, with subtly slanted walls to maximize reverberation and materials selected for acoustic performance and resonance.

Jones College senior Maria Failla, a vocal performance major, said she is happy to see Rice involving the Shepherd School in expanding art around campus.

"I didn't know about [the skyspace] but I think it's great," Failla said. "I love the fact that Rice is continuing to put interesting art all over campus and that they're trying to involve Shepherd and I think that it could be an interesting space for performances."

A groundbreaking party is scheduled for May 17. Because the Rice Art Program wants to involve students as much as possible, everyone on campus is invited. Hubbard said art majors and interns are eventually going to be able to regularly provide input. Though it won't be sealed off with doors, Hubbard said the skyspace will be closed at certain hours of the night because it is a piece of artwork.

"Students will hopefully maintain and protect it because there's going to be a freedom and openness to it," Hubbard said.

Baker College sophomore Evelyn Hsu, who studies piano at the Shepherd School, said that she thinks having the skyspace is a good idea despite the fact that it might obstruct the view from Shepherd.

"It will be nice because there are so many concerts that there aren't enough performing opportunities," Hsu said. "If non-majors can perform, it would be nice if majors and non-majors could work together to perform."

Seth Brown contributed to this article.



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