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Oklahoma Contemporary’s New Arts Center Reflects the Tumultuous Midwestern Skies

With an eye to the sky, Rand Elliott Architects designs an educational arts space in Oklahoma City.

By Rachel Gallaher

Images courtesy Rand Elliott Architects

Thirty-one years ago, architect Rand Elliott joined the board of City Art Center (now known as Oklahoma Contemporary), a fledgling Oklahoma City institution dedicated to contemporary art and arts education.

As the decades have passed, the organization has seen a lot of change—a new name, a new location, and a new building open now—but, according to Elliott, whose firm, Rand Elliott Architects, designed OC’s new 54,000-square-foot four-story building, “education has always been the top focus.”

Oklahoma Contemporary is not a collecting museum, so Elliott’s design emphasizes flexible spaces that can be used for everything from dance performances and immersive installations to classes to traditional art-on-the-wall exhibitions.

The building also has to be able to withstand the dramatic, and constantly changing, Oklahoma weather. “We have everything from strong winds and ice to flooding and 60-degree temperature changes,” Elliott says. “But one of the results of that is really beautiful skies, and we took inspiration from them.”

The skin of the building is clad in vertical rows of aluminum fins that brilliantly reflect the shades and colors of their surroundings. The building’s exterior sometimes starts off golden-yellow in the sunrise, shifts to bright blue at noon, and blazes into fiery reds and pinks in the evening. Even walking around the building to view the undulating fins from different vantage points changes the visual experience.

“We took the notion of ‘folding light,’ which really captured our thoughts, and used it to create a building that allows the sky to change and shape it,” Elliott says. “We wanted to root the building in a strong sense of place.”


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