Deep in the red rocks of Arizona, in a sacred spot known as the painted desert, lies a volcanic cinder cone that acts as the groundwork for light artist James Turrell’s magnum opus: Roden Crater. Over the past 45 years, this piece of land has been transformed into an unprecedented series of large-scale light spaces lying deep beneath the Earth’s surface in a massive crater.
Turrell, 75, has spent over half his life constructing rims that perfectly frame the cosmos in the 2.5 mile-wide, 380,000 year old volcano shell. He has shaped the tunnels in a way that harnesses light from the Earth’s natural light sources no matter the time of day. He has said that this large architectural undertaking was inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the ancient pyramids of Tenochtitlan, Mexico.
This project is the culmination of Turrell’s lifelong research in human visual and psychological perception. Individually engineered skyspaces within the crater act as conduits where the cycles of both celestial and geological time can be intimately experienced. To put it simply, it is a controlled environment that one can enter to contemplate and evaluate the concept of light itself, and how it interacts with space and time.
As of recent, many of the spaces have been 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 it is finally complete, the magnificent piece of landscape art will host 21 viewing spaces and six different tunnels.
There has been much demand from the public to feast their eyes on this multidimensional creation, and that time is nearing. With many private donations, including $10 million from rap mogul Kanye West and $3 million from billionaire entrepreneur Mark Pincus this past February, the future of Roden Crater’s official public opening looks bright. Turrell has also established a $200 million partnership with ASU in order to expedite the opening of this unprecedented work.
Only a small group of people have experienced what the crater holds, and this new private funding will jump-start the updated master blueprint, which includes a restaurant, visitor’s center, cabins, and a “light-spa.” If all goes well, this otherworldly project will be open for our consumption by 2024.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF: JAMES TURRELL, RODEN CRATER, © JAMES TURRELL, KLAUS OBERMEYER, FLORIAN HOLZHERR