Advanced Design Studio: Bald
Roofplane / Skyplane
For centuries, astronomy has required scopic enhancement and has consequently been a mediated endeavor. In recent years, instruments using radio wave technology to see farther and clearer than ever before have supplemented optical telescopes. The observatories using this technology are often sited in high desert environments to take advantage of minimal air moisture and light pollution from urban settlements. These remote locations at extreme altitudes and telescopes that no longer require an eye pressed to a lens have removed the astronomer from the instrument, splitting the observatory in two. Typically, a collection of telescopes are sited in one location supported by an architecture of infrastructure, while astronomers inhabit another, housed in an architecture of anonymity often indistinguishable from an office park. This paradigm has replaced the observatory as a single structure accommodating both viewer and instrument that dates at least to Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar and that developed as a public building type in European observatories and planetariums of the 19th and early 20th century.
Site and Program
This studio will attempt to reclaim the experience of looking into the stars as a public endeavor. However, rather than creating a civic building in an urban context, we will examine the observatory as an object intertwined with landscape by day and as an architectural instrument that connects to the sky by night. As such, we will cede the advantages of radio wave telescopes to the multinational institutional partnerships that operate them and embrace the technology of the enthusiast and the amateur.
The ‘amateur scientist’ has an especially long tradition in England. Kielder Observatory, a modest structure commissioned following an international competition a decade ago, has embraced and supports this tradition. Sited in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest the observatory takes advantage of Northern Europe’s largest sky plane unpolluted by light. This striking landscape is the UK’s largest man-made forest and houses a provocative contemporary arts and architecture program with multiple site-specific interventions. These structures have been highly successful in drawing visitors from the curious to the obsessed to examine the sky.
Success has brought a need for more, which will be the charge of this studio. Students will design individual proposals for a new structure, an expanded observatory that will add to both the mission and ethos of Kielder Forest and Observatory. Special attention will be paid to the roof plane as an architectural element ripe for invention that engages the landscape under the sun and the sky under the stars.
For travel week, we will be based in Edinburgh, about eighty miles north of Kielder. A vibrant city of monuments and alleys, its core juxtaposes two cities, the organic medieval Old Town and the planned Georgian New Town. This lesson in urbanism will complement our journey to Kielder and to other sites of ancient ruins embedded in the Scottish landscape. We will also make a side trip to Glasgow to see the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Zaha Hadid’s new River Museum.