On August 1, 2022, Friends will begin the installation of the James Turrell Skyspace, the capstone element to the Campus Redevelopment Project, atop the roof of 218 East 16th Street—adjacent to the existing elevator bulkhead of nearly identical height.
Designed and donated to Friends by Quaker James Turrell, one of America’s greatest living artists, this will be the only public Skyspace in Manhattan and the only one attached to a K-12 school anywhere. The installation at Friends will serve as a spiritual and educational space for our students, the community and the city.
In 2015, the Skyspace was reviewed and approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as part of the School’s Campus Redevelopment Project, which began in 2016 and was completed in 2019.
In 2020, the Department of Buildings reviewed and approved the Skyspace’s design and installation plans. In 2022, the Landmarks Preservation Commission reaffirmed their approval.
What is a Skyspace?
Turrell’s Skyspaces are specifically proportioned chambers where viewers have a unique and personal experience of the sky through a knife-edged aperture in the roof. Benches line the perimeter of the enclosed space, allowing observers to look at the sky in such a way as though it were framed. LED lights which surround the aperture can change colors to affect the viewer's perception of the sky. Based on the science of how humans perceive light, the visitor’s own experience of the changing light is the actual work itself. Turrell, a MacArthur Fellow, has created 86 Skyspaces worldwide, but only 12 are open to the public.
The Skyspace at Friends
The School's Skyspace will be a relatively small, modular room, measuring 20' W x 22.5' L X 20.5’ H. The main elements of the structure will be constructed off-site and then brought to the School for assembly and installation. In keeping with Quaker testimonies and Friends Seminary’s own mission, the Skyspace will not only be a work of art, but also a place of silence and study. See below for renderings of the Skyspace and its placement on the rooftop.
With the structural foundation laid earlier in the Project, the process of installing the Skyspace will be minimally impactful from a noise perspective, and is projected to be fully enclosed in October 2022. Once enclosed, the intricate interior lighting work will begin, and the Skyspace is expected to open in early 2023.
Construction activity will take place Monday–Friday (except in cases of emergency or activities that are not permitted to take place during the week), and work will not begin prior to 7AM. The majority of construction staging will take place on 15th Street, which will remain open to pedestrian and vehicular traffic during the project. Please note: There will be a one-day street closure of 16th Street in August in order to complete street and sidewalk restoration work; the date for this activity is TBD but will be noticed to neighbors in advance.
Finally, upon completion of the project, the School will share a public visitation schedule and hours, along with the system by which neighbors, as well as neighboring schools and members of the public, may reserve time to experience the Skyspace.