Hart Wright Architects recently visited Lightning Field, a land art piece designed by Walter De Maria in the 1970s. De Maria just died last month and we write to say how sad we are to know that he is gone and we remember him by showing our images and knowledge about this great work.
The Lighting Field is a series of lighting rods positioned on a grid in a huge open valley, in New Mexico, just south and west of Albuquerque. The ground is pretty flat, but there is some slope- about 9 feet of elevation change. Still, the tops of the poles are all at the same height in space; their tops form a level plane. Since the heights of each pole are different, the shortest is 15 feet, and the tallest is 26′-9″ and they average 20′-7 1/2″. The grid is one mile by one kilometer and there are 400 of them, 220 feet apart.
The idea of the artwork is to experience the land and the light through time. The poles bring attention to the land. Their precision and beauty enhance the natural beauty of the field. An orthogonal and precise grid is sitting perfectly in a wild natural space. The two elements, manmade objects and nature, together form a work of art. Visitors spend a night at the site in a cabin built specifically as a shelter for them. As the sunlight changes, the way the light hits the poles and the scenery is breathtaking. Visitors walk through, around, in and all over the field. When visitors are lucky, lightning strikes creating new and different experience of this connection of the manmade to the natural.
A close up of one of the poles
The cabin sits in the field and the porch has a grand view of the artwork.
Note the fly swatter.
Beauty in simplicity.
The work was completed in June of 1977. De Maria spent five years earlier searching for the right piece of land. He also built a mock up of the work in Northern Arizona in 1974. The land where this mock up was built is not far from Meteor Crater, Eliza Hart’s family owned crater.* Local high school students were used for the construction as cheap labor. The poles were machined in a shop not far from the site and they sit in a concrete foundation that is 3 feet deep by one foot diameter. The wind in valley can be very strong and the poles were engineered to resist winds of 110 mph.
Stuart providing some scale