GEMMA OBSERVATORY

This astronomical observatory is located at the end of a steep gravel drive on a remote mountain summit in central New Hampshire. The site is characterized by granite outcroppings and is situated at the center of a three-mile radius “dark” landscape with very little light pollution to obstruct astronomical viewing. 

The Observatory’s design rejects a traditional dome in favor of a synthesized architectural form that maximizes usable interior space and responds to the stark geographic context. Its continuously faceted shape reflects the surrounding landform, and terraced concrete platforms transition between the summit’s bedrock and the building foundation, knitting together the natural and man-made landscapes. 

PROJECT LOCATION
New Hampshire

PROJECT SIZE 

2,130 SF

PROJECT TYPE

Education, Observatory

CLIENT

Private

An unconventional pattern of zinc cladding mediates between the irregular site topography and the building’s geometry, reflecting Gemma’s orientation to both geological and celestial landmarks. The zinc’s dimension, color, and patina evoke a material relationship to the gray granite outcroppings, while its heat transfer capability facilitates sky observation by minimizing temperature differential distortion. 

As a counterpoint to the exterior and its context, the interior is lined with fir plywood, creating a haven of refuge and warmth from the harsh surroundings. The first floor is comprised of a research office, sleeping bunk, and warming room, and  is super-insulated to prevent interior/exterior temperature differentials from creating heat eddies that would impede astronomical viewing. A helical, plywood-and-steel stair leads from the cantilevered entry canopy to a fissure in the cladding that opens to the exterior observation deck and telescope.

Continuing, the stair arrives at the observatory’s primary astronomical viewing platform inside the faceted turret, its interior characterized by high ceilings, a larger telescope, and a camera array. A single person can rotate this turret by hand with an assembly typically used in high-precision manufacturing facilities, and a hand-cranked sliding hatch opens the telescope to the sky. A rift in the zinc cladding creates a corner window, framing Polaris when the turret is locked into the southern cardinal position.

PROJECT COLLABORATORS

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER

RSE Associates, Inc.

CIVIL ENGINEER

Samiotes Consultants, Inc

GEOTECHNICAL CONSULTANT
Haley & Aldrich, Inc.

TECHNICAL MOTION ENGINEERS

Gillespie Corp.

CONSTRUCTION
Patriot Builders 

PHOTOGRAPHY

Client

AW–ARCH

VIDEO

Julian Tryba

AWARCH

Anmahian Winton Architects

650 Cambridge Street

Cambridge, MA 02141

(617) 577-7400

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