Guggenheim skylight

Shine On: The History and Vision behind the Guggenheim’s Iconic Skylight

by Megan Chusid for the Guggenheim blog

What is the first thing you do when you walk into the Guggenheim Museum? You look up, of course, and drink in that first view of the building’s instantly recognizable skylight.

Over 90 feet above the rotunda floor of the Guggenheim, and spanning 58 feet, the building’s skylight, or “oculus,” is one of the most iconic in the world. The domed window is made up of twelve sections; they rest on concrete structural supports that extend down through the building as web walls along the perimeter of the curved building. There are a total of 169 sections of glass in the skylight, 14 for each “pie slice” and one polygonal cap where they all come together.

Installed by Fisher Skylights, Inc. between 1956–59, the skylight consists of a metal frame, two layers of exterior glass, and a single layer of glass on the interior. The sunlight afforded by the oculus was of crucial importance to Wright, who felt strongly that art was best viewed in natural light. In a 1955 letter to James Johnson Sweeney, then the director of the museum, the architect passionately argued, “Isn’t a picture (like sculpture and like a building) a circumstance in nature; sharing light and dark—warm and cold—changing with every subtle change: seen now in one light; now in another?”

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The Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was the 1986 recipient of the AIA Twenty-Five Year Award