Skyspace Follow-up

As briefly mentioned last week, I felt the need to make a trip over the weekend to James Turrell's new skyspace at the corner of Halsted and Roosevelt, in order to experience it for myself before making any further judgment on it success.

After spending a little bit of time there, I find myself in agreement with Edward, who said that the water "does not 'drown out' the noise and chaos enough." This can be attributed to the fact that four equally-spaced openings allow access to the interior, leaving roughly half of the enclosure to be "filled" by the falling water. Furthermore, the water falls in thin streams, rather than sheets, so any visual obstruction is minimal. In terms of noise, Hugh Pearman makes the observation that the Yorkshire skyspace "appears to capture the background noises of the park." The same is true here, where the sounds of traffic are actually intensified by the raised walls.


So after my visit, I find myself in agreement with my initial thoughts on the skyspace's lack of success, though as an urban plaza it's very successful. The aforementioned openings in the enclosure not only provide access to the skyspace and its benches, but also access through the skyspace, allowing people to cross through it rather than having to walk around it. Additionally, the skyspace is a small piece in the overall plaza, which also contains a water feature and additional seating. The degrees of success for the plaza and skyspace were most visible in the throngs of people Sunday afternoon using the benches and other areas of the plaza, and the complete lack of anybody sitting inside the skyspace itself. The plethora of floor-mounted LED lights all over the place indicates that the plaza's heavy use should extend to the evening and nighttime hours, perhaps a time when Turrell's skyspace is most dramatic.


If the design of this plaza were devoted to the skyspace, it might look like the image above. Given the other factors influencing the design, though, it ended up looking like this. Ultimately, it's not a bad compromise as it improves its corner of the city in numerous ways.


  1. Is it possible that this project would have been a better success without the views of traffic? I have visited his installation in Seattle at the UW campus and it seems that the nature of his work is contemplative. For the continuity of his play with perspective, it seems necessary for his installation to be cut off from views of urban life. The installation in Seattle is also at the edge of campus along a major road, however it is incorporated with the art gallery a story up and the space is surrounded by full height walls. Judging from the pictures, it seems that it was a stretch to fit his artwork to that particular space.

    Is Chicago trying to pull a Gehry?

  2. Yes, the skyspace would probably be better without the traffic. If that means it should be on another site, that makes sense. I'm guessing most of the problems with the skyspace stem from safety/security concerns, hence its location at an intersection and its openness on the sides.

    Seattle's skyspace is similar to others in that there's one point of access and a relatively hermetic enclosure to allow contemplation/meditation. Of course, that wouldn't work here.

    Perhaps Turrell's work isn't only inappropriate for the site but for "public" art, requiring the security of museums and other institutions over the security of "eyes on the street". Maybe a great location for a Turrell skyspace would the top of a skyscraper downtown...though it might be difficult to restrict the view to only sky and not the neighbors.


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