The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin has finished the construction of Austin, the last project of artist Ellsworth Kelly to be realized before his death at the end of 2015. Austin is Kelly’s first foray into architecture, and the T-shaped, secular sanctuary is flooded with multicolored light at every junction. The completion of Austin is the result of a $23 million campaign by the Blanton, after Kelly gifted the building’s design to the museum in 2015. The 2,715-square-foot, chapel-like building was conceived of as existing without a religious component, and its most prominent feature, multicolored, mouth-blown stained glass arrangements at each of the façades, splashes the interior with focused patterns. All of Austin, inside and out, focuses attention on Kelly’s use of colored grids. The curving exterior of the building is clad in limestone panels sourced from Alicante, Spain, while the floor of the surrounding plaza and connected interior are made of black granite. One of Kelly’s “Totems” will be on display inside, an 18-foot-tall sculptural form carved from salvaged 19th century redwood. Despite the piece’s professed areligious alignment, Kelly chose to adorn the interior walls with 14 40-inch-by-40-inch black-and-white marble panels which abstract the Stations of the Cross. The white marble comes from the same quarry in Carrera, Italy, from where Michelangelo sourced his marble, while the black marble is Belgian. In a press release, the Blanton described Austin as “an experience akin to visiting the Rothko and Matisse chapels, in Houston and Vence, France, respectively.” Drawing attention to the interplay between colored light, air, and heavier physical materials is Austin’s central concept. The building accomplishes this by varying the window orientations at every façade. On the south side is the “color grid,” a three-by-three lattice of square glass pieces, while the east façade’s “tumbling squares” takes those same pieces and rotates them around a circle, referencing the north transept rose window at Chartres Cathedral in Paris. The west façade’s “starburst” window elongates the tumbling squares into narrow streaks of color, not dissimilar to Apple’s spinning loading wheel. Austin sits adjacent to the Blanton and is surrounded by a blanket of green space, and officially opened to the public on February 18 alongside Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, an exhibition meant to explain Austin’s context in Kelly’s canon of work.
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Realizing the architect's final project using advanced fabrication techniques Johnson may have never known.Philip Johnson completed the design for the Interfaith Peace Chapel in Dallas just before his death in 2005. Working with Johnson’s firm Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects and architect of record Cunningham Architects, the Cathedral of Hope, United Church of Christ and non-profit social advocacy group Hope for Peace & Justice moved forward with the building. Completed late last year, the chapel is a monument to the congregation’s pluralistic worldview and acceptance of all religions. Its smooth, curving walls are central to Johnson’s goal of creating a cave-like sanctuary that is far removed from the site’s banal location near the runways of Dallas Love Field Airport. The project team hired cold-formed steel framing fabricator Radius Track to help realize the design. As a contributor to projects including Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and Grimshaw’s Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute outside Troy, New York, Radius Track are experts at framing large curved surfaces. Construction of the Peace Chapel began with structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti’s structural steel 3-D Tekla BIM model, which defined the asymmetrical geometry of the chapel’s approximately 3-foot-thick interior and exterior walls—the design is free of any parallel lines or right angles. Cunningham Architects converted that model into a Rhino 3-D model that contained all of the finished surfaces in addition to the structural steel details. Radius Track used that model to create its cold-formed steel framing details while identifying any conflicts between the structural and cold-formed steel systems. The team was also faced with the challenge of meeting the high wind load requirements of the tornado-prone Dallas area. Because the framing system needed to be strong but flexible enough to handle the chapel’s curves, Radius Track created twin structures to frame interior and exterior walls, using 3 5/8-inch 33-mil studs and track for the interior walls and 6-inch 54-mil studs and track for the exterior walls. The company’s CEO, architect Chuck Mears, added strength and saved time and material costs by designing a system that attaches both walls to the structural steel using a single horizontal clip. The construction also allowed consulting engineer THHinc to use only one support header in each window or door opening, saving the cost of creating additional curved header shapes. Radius Track fabricated all of the project’s steel studs in its Minneapolis shop. Clad in a skin of cement plaster supported by metal sheathing, the 8,000-square-foot, 175-seat chapel is 46 feet tall and 106 feet wide, creating the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Hope’s campus, which is home to one of the country’s largest gay and lesbian congregations. Johnson also designed a nearby bell tower, completed in 2000, but his plans for a grand cathedral adjacent to the chapel remain unbuilt.