Common Sky

Buffalo, NY, USA 2019-23

Both a sculpture and an architectural structure, Common Sky is a canopy of glass and mirrors designed to envelop the courtyard of the Seymour H. Knox Building, a mid-twentieth-century extension of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. This project, completed in 2023, aims to provide a space that is free and open to the public, and that reflects the museum's vision of a twenty-first-century art institution of inclusion. It also connects the historic museum to the adjacent Delaware Park.

Common Sky is a celebration of the sky as commons, enclosed but not excluding the surrounding landscape. The glass roof acts as a lens, inviting people to connect with their immediate environment and bringing into focus the ephemeral qualities of the atmosphere: the changing seasons, the dappled light, and the cloud formations. Its alternating mirror and transparent glass panels emphasise physical movement as a means to shape space, making visitors visible within the work and prompting them to co-create fragmented inward and outward perspectives. The various angles of the mirrors cast complex, kaleidoscopic reflections that frame unexpected views as people move around the courtyard below.

Common Sky has been a collaborative effort between artist and architect to close the inner courtyard of a protected building without intruding on its construction. Inspired by the intense weather patterns of the city of Buffalo and the lush park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the aim of this project is to form space with non-classical architectural elements that are already inherent to the site, while also honouring the original architecture. The strict modernism of the Seymour H. Knox Building, designed by Gordon Bunshaft and completed in 1962, is complemented by Common Sky's organic shape, which rhymes with the forms found in the surrounding landscape, such as the trees, winding paths, clouds, and shafts of sunlight.

The geometry of the canopy forms a trajectory across the courtyard, from a triangular pattern at the roof's edges to a hexagonal pattern towards the middle. The structure curves and reaches down to the ground at a single off-centre point of support, maintaining an asymmetry of space. This funnel-like column marks the spot where a lone hawthorn tree, planted in the 1960s, once stood, evoking a memorial to what came before. The presence of this feature means that the roof structure need not impose a new support system on the building. It also adds movement and, like a hollow tree trunk, draws the outside elements in – whether rain, snow, leaves, or light.

Initiated in 2019, this project is part of the new master plan by Shohei Shigematsu of the architectural firm OMA. It is the most significant campus expansion and development project in the museum's 160-year history.


Client: Buffalo AKG Art Museum
Location: Buffalo, NY, USA
Date: 2019–23