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Award of Merit: Small Project (Under $10 Million): Turrell Skyspace

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Linbeck Group completed work on the Turrell Skyspace at Rice University in July 2012. This one-of-a-kind art installation presented several construction challenges, including an interior and exterior "knife-edge" design and installation and a large flat soffit that could have no expansion joints.

Photo by Paul Hester
Linbeck Group completed work on the Turrell Skyspace at Rice University in July 2012.
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"By far the most challenging aspects of the project were balancing the budget with the artist's vision," says Tom Butler, project manager with Linbeck. "The knife-edge design called for differing materials to come together in ways that had never been tried before. Successful installation came only after multiple full-scale mock-ups were completed and tested visually and functionally."

When welding was being done at opposite corners of the installation, heat generated by the welding plus the ambient air temperature caused the entire structural frame to overheat and move, so the project team shifted welding operations to early morning and late evening hours when the ambient air temperature was lower.

"It's difficult to make something so complex appear to be so simple. The exacting standards of the artist cannot be overstated and the effort to achieve them understated. The knife edge was once described by the artist as the difference between a butter knife and a steak knife," Butler adds. "Creating a steak knife 72-ft long on four sides—and keeping them perfectly flat—is easy to draw but difficult to build."

Key Players

Owner Rice University, Houston

General Contractor Linbeck Group LLC, Houston

Lead Design Thomas Phifer & Partners, New York

Structural Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, New York

Civil Walter P Moore, Houston

MEP Alteri Sebor Wieber, Norwalk, Conn.

Landscape Architect Office of James Burnett, Houston

AV Consultant Arup Acoustics, New York


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