How the Guggenheim Built the Cone Structure for James Turrell's Aten Reign

4:42 | Published on June 21, 2013 | 334 Views

Richard Avery, Technical and Production Specialist, Fabrications; Jaime Roark, Associate Director, Exhibition Design and Productions; and Nat Trotman, Associate Curator, describe the process of building the cone structure for James Turrell's site-specific installation Aten Reign (2013) at the Guggenheim.

For more information, visit James Turrell.

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Building the Cone Structure

RICHARD AVERY:
My manager Peter Read approached me with information from the artist: the concept of wanting to sort of shroud the interior space and divide it up into layers and in some way light those individual spaces. I thought that by creating a different structure that was inside the building, we could get pretty close to what he wanted.

JAIME ROARK:
In effect, our job was to come up with the container, so that, in the end, the container is completely invisible and it’s just about the light. The Guggenheim in plan is a circle with a bite cut out of one side. And so putting a circle in the middle of that doesn’t maximize the space. But the ellipse actually fills that space more, and consequently when you’re down on the rotunda floor, you’ll feel more like you’re in the piece instead of just looking at it.

RICHARD AVERY:
The ellipses you see now are a direct result of the aesthetic wishes of James Turrell.

NAT TROTMAN:
The Guggenheim is designed around two intersecting cones. The exterior facade is based around a cone that becomes more narrow as it goes down to the ground, and the interior edge of the rotunda space is a cone that tapers as it goes upwards. So we designed the installation to similarly be a series of cones that narrow as they go upward in space—starting about 25 feet above the floor of the museum and proceeding almost to the top of the space. At the topmost layer, there is a layer of scrim that will hold daylight coming through the oculus above. Below that, between the viewer and the daylight, there are five concentric rings of LED fixtures that shine upward, filling separate conical chambers with slowly changing light. When visitors walk in, you’ll actually be looking into the center of the series of cones that will hang above your head.

RICHARD AVERY:
When I first started trying to describe this to people, I found it easiest to describe this as an inside-out lampshade. Whereas in a lampshade, you have this metal framework with, you know, fabric or paper or whatever wrapped around the outside. If you invert that so the frame is on the outside and the material covering the lampshade is on the inside. If you had five of those, each one smaller than the one below, stacked on top of each other, and in between those layers you had a bit of gauze—that’s how I see it.
    
The skeleton of the piece is aluminum box truss. The scrims that we’re using are stretched very tightly and create a lot of tension, a lot of forces. So you need a structure that is rigid enough to keep all those scrims taut.

JAIME ROARK:
The membranes are actually made smaller than the size space that you need them to fit and through applying heat they stretch. And as they stretch you’re able to insert them into the track system, so that when they cool they are incredibly taut. Essentially each vertical scrim layer is composed of two layers, a white one and a black one, and that’s what helps the light be as intense as it possibly can inside the cone and not leak outside of the cone.

RICHARD AVERY:
Each of the 5 layers is going to be able to be lit independently. So the lighting has to have a place to live—so incorporated within each of these cones there’s a shelf.

JAIME ROARK:
So the LEDs that we’re using along each perimeter of each ellipse are comprised of a series of colored lights in each fixture. So each light has different colors inside of it, and each light ends up ultimately having a specific address amongst this whole system. So in the end, from the rotunda floor, the programming phase of this can happen in such a way that James has the flexibility to really have control over what colors are mixing and the transition between one color to the next.