What was born in 1989 as a modest community arts center on the outskirts of Oklahoma City has since blossomed into the powerhouse art institution Oklahoma Contemporary, which desperately needed a new building to match its bigger and brighter goals. Enter local firm Rand Elliott Architects, which was tasked with designing the museum’s new home in the heart of downtown. The result is a nearly 54,000-square-foot marvel nestled into what’s been dubbed the Innovation District—a hotbed of creativity spanning industries from the arts to aerospace engineering.
“The inspiration for the project comes from our place,” says architect Rand Elliott. He goes on to share the Native American history of the land, plus some darker moments from its history, like the Dust Bowl in the 1930s to the 1995 bombing. “My goal was to find something ethereal, lasting, timeless that makes this place so special. My focus turned to our big skies,” he says. “The horizon is always visible and makes our sunrises and sunsets an uplifting experience. So, this building is inspired by our light, the light of our sky.”
He’s created a skin that reacts to the light, using 16,800 extruded aluminum panels “that capture, hold, reflect, and redirect the light as it moves through the sky.” Thus the museum changes color throughout the day, leading Elliott to name the building “Folding Light.”
When Oklahoma Contemporary opens in its new home soon—the exact date is to be determined, given the current global pandemic—it will inaugurate its space with two exhibitions dedicated to the same light and sense of place that inspired Elliott. “Bright Golden Haze” draws its title from the first line of the musical Oklahoma! and will feature paintings, sculptures, and installations by indigenous, national, and international artists from James Turrell to Olafur Eliasson. Its counterpart, “Shadow on the Glare,” shares the theme but focuses on video and photography.
Oklahoma Contemporary will stay true to its roots as a community center, offering free admission to all, as well as educational outreach through the Studio School, which will host regular workshops, classes, and open studios. Thanks to this new museum and its world-class programming, downtown Oklahoma City’s future is as bright as the skies above it.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest