After 2 years and numerous changes, in January 1999 the final contract was signed for the first phase of artist James Turrell's largest work based on the changing experience of light.

Principal components of the work include:

  • The Sun & Moon circular structure
  • The 825-foot-long East Tunnel
  • The Portal elliptical space
  • A second tunnel from the Portal to the eye of the crater
  • The Crater Eye round chamber

A lodge will provide limited overnight housing since much of what the artist James Turrell wants people to see will be at night or sunset. The concrete structure, covered with red cinders is imperceptible from the air.

Part of the project's challenge was the location. On the edge of the Painted Desert in northeastern Arizona, the Roden Crater site is the cinder cone of a long-extinct volcano east of Flagstaff in an area with literally no infrastructure. The 42-mile commute from Flagstaff ended in 12 miles of dirt road built by the Ashton Company of Tucson just to get equipment access to the crater.

Ashton's crew reshaped the bowl of the crater, moving about 700,000 cubic yards of cinders to create a truncated inverted cone, elliptical in shape, with the top level at a constant elevation, necessary for perfection of the artistic/visual experience. The modified bowl will function as what Turrell calls a "huge skyspace," manipulating the phenomenon of celestial vaulting.

Tunnel excavation required moving another 400,000 yards of the cindery earth.

Given the unique installation, some of the owner's needs evolved during the course of the contract. As work progressed, the owner finally requested an architectural finish. It was all specified as gray concrete when the work started, but later red concrete in the upper tunnel in and around the eye of the crater. A plan to apply plaster over the colored concrete was dropped when no satisfactory plaster could be found. And the owner didn't want any form marks to show in this area, so asked Ashton to provide a rubbed finish.

A 40-foot-long form for the East Tunnel was built in the Ashton welding shop. With steel set in advance, the crew was able to fill the form in one 10-hour shift. The owner later decided to paint the inside of this tunnel black, so minor deviations will no longer be an issue.

Ashton built the radius walls of the major structures using EFCO Redi-Radius forms already owned by the company, filling in with some new 2-foot panels.

Roden Crater work required some 5200 yards of concrete, all produced at the batch plant Ashton set up onsite. Most of the concrete work was done between May and June 2000.

When finished, the Roden Crater project will be completely underground, except the crater eye, the oval opening in the roof of the Portal, and the single 18-inch-round opening in the dome of the Sun & Moon structure. As specified, the site is being restored as much as possible to the original appearance.