Luminous (OMG) Onyx

Onyx is a luminous marble that, when back lit, glows like a candle.   There’s an entire galaxy ebbing and flowing in the golden and milky white onyx ceiling at the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto, where Sikhs and Muslims and Christians can worship in the same space. (Photo above and below by Tom Arban.)

Poetically imagined by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, the design for the Multi-faith Centre is one of the first in North America.  A pale onyx from an Italian quarry was selected as a means to express universality and spiritual tolerance.  The ceiling onyx is recessed and back lit by tubes of light.  The wall of onyx contains several tall cupboards where sweetgrass for aboriginal groups or sacred scrolls for Buddhists.

 This is a highly minimal piece of modernism – it opened in 1963 – made remarkable by its large panes of onyx.  Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings & Merrill designed the white onyx-clad Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.   The Vermont onyx has been cut so thin that light from the outside transfers powerfully to the inside.  I’ve stood within this entirely enclosed space and felt as if the walls were on fire.

Inspired, I decided to use 12 X 12 inch onyx in the shower room and tiny tiles as a backsplash in the upstairs laundry room. The pattern of the veins running through the onyx is as complex as a honey comb but the wheat colour is ultra mellow.  Luckily, several large tiles were left over after the work was complete and I decided to make wall lamps to hang outside.


I designed the lights to feature two tiles stacked vertically on a box frame of white acrylic.  My builder friend, George, agreed to help me with the construction.  He cut long strips of the acrylic and then heated them slightly so as to create a gentle bend. (And, yup, we burned a couple strips a long the way…)

 Reflecting tape was attached to the back of the box to spread out the glow.  The tiles were pre-drilled and then secured to the acrylic with anodized aluminum bolts.

And then installed on the recessed cedar deck at the back of our house.  So that’s my onxy light by day…

Can’t get enough of the onyx glow at night.  The neighbours across our back yard say they like the glow, too.

  1. Ginetta said:

    Thank you for that. So wonderful.

  2. Sarah McComb said:

    So fantastic Lisa! I love you and your onyx light. X

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