A collaboration with the visual artist James Turrell, this cylindrical skyspace is situated on a hilltop site at a vineyard in Sonoma, California. By balancing natural light from an oculus with a hidden source of artificial light in an enclosed room, a skyspace creates a range of perceptual phenomena. The constantly changing light and spatial effects challenge the viewer's familiarity with the mechanisms of perception, creating a heightened awareness of the act of seeing.

The skyspace is 18' in diameter by 35' high, and accommodates twenty people. It incorporates an existing water tower on the lower level and is nestled in a hilltop stand of trees overlooking the Sonoma valley. By elevating the skyspace to the second story of the water tower, the oculus opens above the existing tree canopy, preserving a clear view of the sky while permitting the tower's close proximity to the adjacent old-growth oaks and madrones. Clad with Sonoma fieldstone from the vineyard, the tower references the historic masonry construction exhibited elsewhere at the winery, the oldest Pinot Noir vineyard in America. A labor of calculated randomness, each lichen-covered stone was set by a stonemason who worked single-handedly on the tower for five continuous months.

The skyspace is sited such that it is not immediately perceptible from the distance, but rather as a timeless, enigmatic structure that might be accidentally encountered – half man-made, half natural, integrated into the lightly wooded landscape. It is reached by following a winding path from a clearing, then a steep ascent up its crisply abstract cast-concrete stairs. The detailing of the tower, both exterior and interior, was guided by a desire to minimize the evidence of construction and typical cues of human scale. The proportions within the space – the oculus and room diameter, ceiling, bench, and door height – are all guided by the necessary workings of the skyspace as a precise optical device.

The curved teak benches at the perimeter of the skyspace were fabricated by a boat-builder, and house a ring of programmable L.E.D. lights in a hidden trough. During the transition from twilight to full night, the lights are programmed to shift in intensity as they wash the underside of the canopy, creating a changing perception of sky as space, form, object and void. A high-point of the show occurs at equiluminance, when the brightness of the sky matches that of the ceiling. A different sequence is programmed to reward those who arrive to witness the dawn.

LOCATION: Sonoma County, California

PROGRAM: 155 sf James Turrell skyspace

CONTRACTOR
General Contractor, Kevin Webb Construction