roden crater by james turrell features skyspaces in the arizona desert roden crater by james turrell features skyspaces in the arizona desert
feb 15, 2016

roden crater by james turrell features skyspaces in the arizona desert

roden crater, located in the painted desert region of northern arizona, is an unprecedented large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space artist james turrell. the artist’s lifelong research in the field of human visual and psychological perception culminated into roden crater, with specially engineered skyspaces where the cycles of geologic and celestial time can be directly experienced. a controlled environment for the contemplation of light. it takes its place within the tradition of american landscape art that began in the 1960s, requiring a journey to visit the work in the remote desert with truly dark night skies. 

roden crater
the east portal | images by florian holzherr © james turrell



in the sixteenth century, the great astronomer tycho brahe pioneered ‘naked eye observatories,’ of which the eighteenth-century jantar mantar in jaipur is perhaps the best example. turrell studied and adapted essential features of the naked-eye observatory in his designs for roden crater, where the natural formation recalled these man-made precedents.

roden crater
the roden crater is a gateway to the contemplation of light, time and landscape



 throughout the planning and construction, turrell consulted with noted astronomers including e.c. krupp, director of the griffith observatory in los angeles, and the late richard walker, an astronomer with the U.S. naval observatory in flagstaff, in order to calculate the excavation and alignment of the crater’s tunnels and apertures.

roden crater
the first major construction phase saw the movement of over 1.3 million cubic yards of earth to shape the crater bowl



in 1977, turrell acquired the dormant cinder cone and since then he has fashioned the crater into a site containing tunnels and apertures that open onto pristine skies, capturing light directly from the sun in daylight hours, and the planets and stars at night. the first major phase of construction included the movement of over 1.3 million cubic yards of earth to shape the crater bowl and the construction of the 854′ east tunnel. 

roden crater
the anticipated space will be a transformative sensory experience



6 spaces were completed, including two of the most difficult, the shaping of the crater bowl and the alpha (east) tunnel. the sun/moon chamber, east portal, and the crater’s eye, are joined by the alpha (east) tunnel and a connecting tunnel to the crater bowl. when complete, the project will contain 21 viewing spaces and six tunnels.

roden crater
the alpha (east) tunnel



in november 2015, the skystone foundation, a nonprofit organization responsible for supporting and administering the roden crater, named yvette y. lee (former senior project manager for the guggenheim UBS MAP global art initiative) to the position of executive director, who is responsible for continuing fundraising efforts to complete the final phase of the longstanding construction.

roden crater
image © EC krupp



the east portal, the alpha (east) tunnel and the sun/moon chamber act in concert as a monumental camera obscura, or pinhole camera.

roden crater
east portal

roden crater
the east portal

roden crater
crater’s eye

roden crater
the large-scale artwork is located in the desert region of northern arizona



see our previous coverage from 2013 of the roden crater by james turrell here.

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