Sunday, June 9, 2013

Arizona's Annual Summer Solstice Celebration

    When the summer solstice returns again on June 21st, residents from across Arizona's Valley of the Sun will gather together and celebrate this important solar event just like the ancient Hohokam.  This annual gathering now takes place in the Great Reading Room on the 5th floor of the Phoenix Burton Barr Central Library on north Central Avenue.  At noon on this special day and in this special solar room the wicks of 22 structural “candlesticks” will again re-light by the power of the summer solstice sun!

The sun has made its summer home in the Sonoran Desert for more years than recorded history. The ancient Hohokam farmers knew of the sun’s yearly journey and celebrated its far northern wandering from the equator each year.  For over 1700 years the Hohokam built their temples and performed their festivals to mark this all-important solar day. 

When Americans began to build their homes and cities atop the ancient Hohokam civilization, they too recognized the power of the desert sun. They lovingly nicknamed their land the “Valley of the Sun.”.

When architect Will Bruder was chosen to design this central library of the Phoenix library system, Monument Valley inspired his architectural design.  His library building was made to look like a curving copper mesa split by a stainless steel canyon.  From the 1st floor atrium, known as Crystal Canyon, to the 5th floor Great Reading Room, this library was designed to maximize the solar energy found in the Valley of the Sun.  

The 43,000 square foot Great Reading Room is the largest library reading room in North America, larger than the reading rooms of the New York Public Library or the Library of Congress.  It is here, in this beautiful reading room, that Will Bruder designed a special place for the Valley’s Midsummer’s Day celebration.

In the ceiling above the 22 structural “candlesticks” are 22, six-foot diameter skylights covered by a lens the color of an Alaskan glacier to give the feeling of coolness.  Light filters through each of these skylights and moves along the floor.  Within each skylight’s lens is a six-inch dot whose design purpose is to “light” the wicks of the structural candlesticks each June 21st at solar noon in the annual celebration of the Valley of the Sun’s summer solstice. 

The ancient Hohokam people had solar observatories throughout our Valley and all across the beautiful Sonoran Desert.  We today have our solar observatory in the Great Reading Room of the Burton Barr Central Library.  This year’s summer solstice celebration begins again at 11:00 a.m. on June 21st. Now don’t be late, for this candle lighting spectacular only happens for one special moment each year!

Burton Barr Library, Phoenix, Arizona

The "candles" glow again on another summer solstice day.



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