Sculpture and architecture converge at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, where Studio Other Spaces (SOS), led by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, have constructed a towering canopy of glass and mirrors known as Common Sky. Enveloping the courtyard of the Seymour H. Knox Building, Common Sky provides a space that is free and open to the public, and that reflects the museum’s vision of a twenty-first-century art institution of inclusion.
The glass roof acts as a lens, inviting people to connect with their immediate environment, while bringing the ephemeral qualities of the atmosphere into focus: the changing seasons, the dappled light, and the cloud formations. The alternating mirror and transparent glass panels emphasize physical movement as a means to shape space, making visitors visible within the work, and prompting them to co-create fragmented inward and outward perspectives. The various angles of the mirrors cast complex, kaleidoscopic reflections that frame unexpected views as people move around the courtyard below.
“Common Sky is a dynamic, sculptural statement that combines a geometric language and a playful, poetic approach,” says Eliasson. “As an artwork, it sensitizes you to the world outside, to the surrounding environment of Buffalo. It draws your attention to things that are difficult to measure, and to things that depend on emotion and on your active involvement. If you don’t get involved, nothing will change.”
“It draws your attention to things that are difficult to measure, and to things that depend on emotion and on your active involvement. If you don’t get involved, nothing will change.”
The geometry of the canopy forms a trajectory across the courtyard, from a triangular pattern at the roof’s edges to a hexagonal pattern towards the middle. In cross-section, the roof structure has two levels, which are covered by alternating mirror surfaces. These reflect sunlight and minimize heat gain, which is necessary for environmental reasons. The distribution of hexagons and triangles thus also serves to balance the opening and closing of the roof. Even though nearly half of the surface is closed, the space feels open and airy. The structure curves and reaches down to the ground at a single off-center point of support, maintaining an asymmetry of space. This funnel-like column marks the spot where a lone hawthorn tree, planted in the 1960s, once stood, evoking a memorial to what came before. The presence of this feature means that the roof structure need not impose a new support system on the building. It also adds movement and, like a hollow tree trunk, draws the outside elements in – whether rain, snow, leaves, or light.
“The structure forms a unique design that takes into account all of the surrounding elements from the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, including the park, and neighboring buildings,” explains Behmann. “We created a site-specific artwork that amplifies the existing situation and combines it with the idea of a modern courtyard. We hope visitors enjoy this new space that is accessible to everyone all year round, in all weather conditions, without a ticket, and where public events can be held.”
Studio Other Spaces designed Common Sky to create a connection between the historic museum and the adjacent Delaware Park. Inspired by the intense weather patterns of the City of Buffalo, and the lush park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, it strives to form space with non-classical architectural elements that are already inherent to the site, while also honoring the original architecture. The strict modernism of the Seymour H. Knox Building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft and completed in 1962, is complemented by Common Sky’s organic shape, which rhymes with the forms found in the surrounding landscape, such as the trees, winding paths, clouds, and shafts of sunlight.
Each element of the canopy was developed especially for Buffalo AKG Art Museum, in collaboration with engineer Herwig Bretis from ArtEngineering, and Petersberg-based steel constructor Hahner Technik.
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