Turrell Skyspace installation begins in Chestnut Hill, meetinghouse set to open in June

As construction on the new worship space for the Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting (CHFM) nears completion, installation of its highly anticipated centerpiece has begun. The meetinghouse is generating international attention for being the next site of a Skyspace light installation by world-renown artist, James Turrell.

A tentative completion date has been set for June 15, according to Jon Landau, co-chair of the project.

Vandalism pushed the project’s completion back a few weeks, but construction has been “moving along nicely,” said Rob Reeves, owner of E. Allen Reeves, Inc., the general contractor for the project.

The construction site was the target of an arson attack on December 20, 2012, which caused an estimated $500,000 in damages.

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Landau says CHFM was informed by police that the investigation “is in the hands of the FBI.” Both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to confirm or deny that the FBI is handling the case, citing official policy.

Skyspace installation

The building’s meeting room will house Turrell’s 76th Skyspace. The site-specific work features a precisely calibrated aperture in the ceiling which opens to the sky via a retractable roof to let in light within an enclosed chamber.

By Friday, workers finished putting the Skyspace’s three-piece retractable roof in place, bolting together the separate sections to form one unit.

Now that the retractable roof has been installed, much more complicated work begins, said construction manager, Rich Diegel.

The interior architecture of the Skyspace will have trapezoidal framing which will protrude four feet into the 1,170 square feet meeting room. A gently domed ceiling will frame the oculus.

This week, workers will be testing the motorized rail system which moves the roof. The roof retracts 20 feet per minute, opening completely in three minutes.

As for the rest of the building, most of partitioning has been done, said Reeves. The next steps will be to put in the building finishes and complete the exterior surface. The lot, too will be graded and readied for landscaping.

June move

CHFM has sold its current meetinghouse to neighbor United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia & Vicinity and will close the sale in July. The building’s sale to UCP was exactly what the CHFM was hoping for, Landau shared. “It feels like it will be in good hands,” he said.

The sale of the meetinghouse means CHFM will need to vacate the building before closing. Landau says CHFM will start moving in shortly after construction on the new site is complete. “We expect to begin using it as a meetinghouse in July,” he said.

See the Skyspace in September

Those hoping to finally get a view of the Skyspace, however, may have to wait until the end of summer.

Turrell’s Skyspaces incorporate LED light systems as part of the visual experience, which have to be programmed onsite by the artist. The light system has two programs, one for dawn and one for dusk. The interior lighting works with the exterior view to enhance the perception of the sky and its relationship to the viewer.

Exactly when that computer-programming can take place is dependent on Turrell’s busy schedule, Landau noted.

The artist has three major exhibitions of his work opening in the coming months – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on May 26, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston on June 9 and the Guggenheim Museum in New York on June 21.

CHFM anticipates a grand opening of the Skyspace in September.

In the meantime, visitors will be welcome to worship in the new building and make use of its community room.

Landau says it’s a thrill to witness the progress from week to week.

“It really seems like a miracle to see it moving along the way it is,” he said.

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