Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center

Oklahoma Contemporary’s new downtown campus stands as a new cultural destination among the architecture of Oklahoma City, a sculptural expression of the nonprofit’s mission to provide accessible, inclusive arts experiences for children and adults. The 53,916 square-foot, four-story building, “Folding Light,” anchors the 4.6-acre campus which includes a renovated 9,839 square-foot 1910 historic warehouse (to house studios for ceramics, fiber, metal and wood) and a three-block arts park, providing space for outdoor exhibitions, education programs and public performances.

Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center Aerial

Situated on the northern edge of historic Automobile Alley within the burgeoning Innovation District, a multidisciplinary hub that brings together some of Oklahoma’s largest industries and employers to an energized, revitalized area east of the city’s downtown, the Center was envisioned as a place for community to gather and to create and experience art. The Center sits on a dedicated stop on the Oklahoma City Streetcar.

The story begins at sunrise. Our goal for this project was to find something ethereal and timeless – something that makes this place special. Our focus turned to Oklahoma’s big skies. In Oklahoma, the horizon is always visible and makes our sunrises and sunsets an uplifting experience.

The early morning skies bring the east elevation to life as a luminous, color changing surface. This is the setting for Folding Light.

The unique exterior skin is constructed from recycled, bright-dipped aluminum fins, resulting in an ethereal facade designed to capture the state’s ever-changing weather and reflecting and embracing the landscape’s dramatic changes in light and sky. On this morning, the building skin is transformed as the sun begins to rise on a dark blue stormy sky.

“An elegant jewel in the Oklahoma landscape. The sun setting on the exterior skin visually transforms the museum.”

– Judge’s Comments –
World Architecture News (WAN) Awards

Chosen for its sustainable and visual qualities, there are 16,800 individual custom designed, extruded, recycled aluminum fins (37 miles of extruded aluminum components) at nine different angles that form the building skin. Details of the fins shows the intricacy of the folding facade and the expansion joint in staggered positions.

All billets used for this project we’re made of recycled aluminum. Structural steel includes 93% recycled content and more than 98% of structural steel is recovered for reuse at the end of a structure’s usable life. There are (15,000) of the 100% Fins and (1,800) of the 50% Fins.

The urban project site sat vacant for 20 years – an unused grass field with an adjacent, small park directly to the west. It is within the newly designated Innovation District and an extension of the historic Automobile Alley District. The small urban park was preserved, and the main structure was designed to complement the site’s position on a major thorough fare in downtown, reactivating the site and acting as infill on the streetcar line.

On approach, visitors are greeted by a striking, sculptural building. Sunset is a celebration at Oklahoma Contemporary as the building becomes the color of the horizon. As the sun begins to set, the light creates a luminous glow on the west elevation.

“Young or old, we all need the tools to ignite individual creativity. In the spirit of Oklahoma wildcatters of days past, we build this home to explore new ideas, forms and unexpected combinations to tap the energy needed to fuel the future.”

– Jeremiah Davis, Artistic Director –
Oklahoma Contemporary

Overflow drains discharge from the rooftop 90-feet away and artfully integrate with the aluminum fins.

The interior of the lantern is enclosed on two sides with 50% fins and the third side is shared with the building. Full height LED lights at each corner give this space its internal glow.

The vertical, four-story Lantern is lit each evening, a dramatic tower of light at the southwest corner marking the campus entry. The Lantern is a steadfast source of light in the night and an iconic new Oklahoma City landmark suggesting creativity.

The after-sunrise light grazes the aluminum skin creating shade, shadow and color. The textural variation and folding façade cause the building to capture, reflect and hold light with color ranging from gold to blue. The fourth-floor sunscreen on the upper right controls the southwest sun. The lantern is on the left and is 50% transparent.

To the east at the main entrance, a sculptural porte-cochère adds elegance and offers guests protection from the elements on arrival. The canopy is supported by three steel columns inspired by the tall grass prairies of Oklahoma, with a single steel member reaching beyond the canopy tip as if to reach for creative inspiration. The winter sunrise causes the aluminum skin glisten to and hold the color of the light.

The northeast corner at sunrise is washed in pink and blue and the windows give you a glimpse of the horizon. The entry canopy on the left frames downtown beyond. To the right is the second floor terrace.

The north side of the building gets no direct light in winter, yet it responds to the unseen light from the north. Near sunset the open roof edge is backlit and reacts with hot reflections. 50% open fins outline the roof and create a transparent enclosure for the mechanical equipment. The light tower on the right provides necessary lighting for the terrace and the great lawn. The large square windows are the dance rehearsal space.

Facing west, the terrace glistens from indirect light from the north. The raking light from the west, backlights the roof screen and the windscreen on the terrace level. The light tower illuminates the terrace and the ground level lawn. The second-floor terrace accommodates 175-200 seated or 350 standing for performances, events and classes.

These details are a demonstration of reflection, reaction, and pattern on the west side of the sunscreen for the terrace. A rain through concrete panel provides the walking surface. The light lines remind us of chalk on concrete.

The northwest corner of the building as seen on a snowy winter day. With gray skies, the building reflects a shimmering steel gray to match.

The Romeo and Juliet balconies allow visitor views of the sunset and the sunrise.

“Oklahoma City’s cultural landscape has come of age the last two decades, and hardly a week passes without a major new development, but the opening of the spectacular new home of Oklahoma Contemporary is on another level. This is a world-class facility, dedicated to art in all its forms, and our region will not be the same after its arrival. What it means to our cultural life is only rivaled by what it will mean to our city’s economic growth. The synergy between this facility and Automobile Alley, the Innovation District, our new convention center, Scissortail Park, Midtown and Bricktown will be amazing, and all of it will be linked by the streetcar. I can’t wait.”

– David Holt –
Mayor of Oklahoma City

Client: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center

Scope: The 4.6-acre campus includes:


Folding Light - The 53,916-square-foot main building with 7,279 square-feet of gallery space and nine classrooms.


The Studios - A renovated 9,839 square-foot 1910 historic warehouse to house studios for ceramics, fiber, metal and wood.


Campbell Art Park - A three-block arts park, providing space for outdoor exhibitions, education programs and public performances.


Services: Architectural Design, Interiors

Completion: 2020

  • 2020 World Architecture News (WAN) Awards, Shortlisted in Civic Category
  • Blueprint Awards 2020 Shortlisted in "Best Public-Use Project (Privately funded)" Category

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