People come from far and wide to experience James Turrell’s transcendent visual ode to dusk and dawn. Though not the only piece in Houston designed by the world-renowned light artist, Twilight Epiphany at Rice University’s Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion is the first in his Skyspace series (he’s done more than 70 of them in 29 countries) to be acoustically engineered as a performance venue.
Built in 2012, the same year as Rice’s 100th anniversary, the Houston Skyspace consists of a pyramidal grassy mound topped by a square roof that, balanced on thin steel rods, appears to be almost floating in midair. Punctuating the canopy is a square-shaped aperture through which those sitting in the two-level atrium enclosure below can observe the skies. Since this space was designed with live music in mind, the walls of the viewing area, in which a surround sound speaker system is embedded, are slightly slanted to maximize acoustic potential.
While you can visit the piece any time during the day, the true magic begins in the 40-minute leadup to sunrise and 10 minutes before sunset when a series of LED lights project a seamlessly blending, hypnotic array of hues onto the knife-edge ceiling. The sequence of colors—which moves from cerulean blues and bruised periwinkles to brilliant tangerines, deep pinks, and sage greens—changes throughout the year as the length and luminosity of dawns and dusks vary with the seasons. Add that to the ever-changing atmospheric conditions of Houston, and no two light shows are ever the same. Gradually brightening and darkening as they shift, the rainbow effect is so beautiful, it feels as though the heavens themselves are being painted before your very eyes.