“I am making spaces that will engage celestial events.”
— James Turrell
Roden Crater belongs to a tradition of monumental structures that have been built by artists, rulers and priests, ancient and modern. Above-ground observatories for specific celestial events include Maes Howe in Scotland (which predates the pyramids), Newgrange in Ireland, and Abu Simbal in Egypt. Remnants of ancient sites that resemble ‘handmade volconoes,’ large mounds with a depression at the summit, are also scattered around the world. These include Herodium near Jerusalem and Old Sarum in England. 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.
Throughout the planning and construction of Roden Crater, 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. When completed the structures within the crater will form a vast naked eye observatory for celestial objects and events ranging from obscure and infrequent to the more familiar summer and winter solstice.
The East Portal, the Alpha Tunnel (also known as the East Tunnel) and the Sun | Moon Chamber act in concert as a monumental Camera Obscura, or pinhole camera. Transmitting light from the East Portal aperture, the Alpha Tunnel focuses images on the west side of the monumental image stone in the Sun | Moon Chamber annually for the southernmost sunset and every 18.61 years to mark the major lunar standstill. The Alpha Tunnel also serves as a naked eye telescope to view the setting moon. The South Space will be aligned to the North Star and allow tracking of the Saros Cycle. Future construction will provide for light from the east to focus the winter solstice rising sun on the east side of the Sun | Moon Chamber image stone.
Use the viewer above to explore the relationship of celestial events to the site map and plan of Roden Crater.