Magnum Opus | Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin Austin, Texas | Ellsworth Kelly's Austin   |   Austin, Texas   |   2,715 SF

The Blanton Museum of Art has acquired what could come to be known as one of the great modern masterpieces. Originally conceptualized in 1986 and completed in 2018 after five years of meticulous design and construction, Ellsworth Kelly’s first and only building, Austin, finally stands on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. Known for their nuanced, showcase collaboration with artist James Turrell on The Color Inside—a Turrell Skyspace located on the rooftop of UT-Austin’s Student Activity Center —and through their relationship with the artist, Overland was brought on to realize the artist’s masterwork. After Kelly’s passing in 2015, the project gained new significance as his final work.

Ellsworth Kelly died at the age of 92, before the completion of the chapel, shortly after signing the design documents, giving his artistic seal of authenticity. He left behind a body of work that includes masterpieces in numerous contemporary movements, from Hard-edge painting to Color Field and many others. He was an artist who defied any classification except for master, and this final work conveys an appropriate reverence and encourages reflection for those who experience it.
Compared by many to the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Austin is a contemplative space for spiritual and non-spiritual people alike. It calls on the power of art, abstraction, and light to touch the human soul. Whether you are moved or quieted, Kelly’s own self-effacing spirit lives on in the chapel, taking visitors on a journey beyond themselves and into a place of transcendence.

Kelly had vision for the building in intricate detail. As such, getting inside the mind of the artist was the primary challenge for the team—taking Kelly’s vision and turning it into a constructible design that could survive the Texas climate for generations to come. Humble materials—stone, plaster, steel, and glass—came to life in the mind of Kelly, who was inspired by the Romanesque structures he encountered while studying art in Paris.

The final result has much the same effect, solitude, community, culture, reverence, and reflection converging in a single transept.

Three of the chapel’s vaulted arms draw the gaze up to stained glass installations, creating a dynamic play of color and light as the sun moves throughout the day. The fourth arm of the building houses a towering redwood totem. Fourteen black-and-white stone reliefs constructed of marble quarried from Carrara, Italy—the same quarry used for Michelangelo’s Pietà—hang on the walls. Austin has already proven to be a destination art piece, elevating this pocket of the UT campus and the city of Austin, and allowing visitors to see the world through the eyes of a great artist.

  • Design-Build Institute of America – Merit Award – Civic / Assembly 2020
  • CODAworx Institutional CODAAward 2018
  • Engineering News-Record Cultural/Worship Best Project Award 2018
  • Architectural Record, “On the Boards,” March 2015
  • Architects’ Newspaper, “Famed Artist to Bring Color-Filled Chapel to UT Austin,” March 2015
  • New York Times, “Texas Museum to Build Ellsworth Kelly Design,” February 2015
  • Texas Architect, “Paperwork,” May/June 2015
  • Art Forum, “Blanton Museum of Art Will Construct Ellsworth Kelly Design,” February 2015
  • Austin Culture Map, “Blanton Museum Acquires One-of-a-Kind Ellsworth Kelly Installation for Permanent Collection,” February 2015
  • Phaidon, “Take a Look Inside Ellswork Kelly’s New ‘Chapel,'” February 2015