Anmahian Winton Architects completed its private astronomical observatory in New Hampshire. The Gemma project rejects a traditional dome in favor of a zinc clad faceted architecture maximizing usable space and responding to a stark geographic context. The project won the 2017 American Institute of Architecture small project award.
The Gemma astronomical observatory is located on a remote mountain at the center of a three-mile radius “dark” landscape with very little light pollution to obstruct astronomical viewing. “The continuously faceted shape reflects the surrounding landform knitting together natural and man-made landscapes.” Explain at Anmahian Winton Architects.
Indeed, an unconventional pattern of lock-seamed zinc cladding mediates between the irregular site topography and the building’s geometry, reflecting Gemma’s orientation to both geological and celestial landmarks. Its 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 stair leads from the cantilevered entry canopy to a fissure in the cladding that opens onto the exterior observation deck. Continuing, the stair arrives at the observatory’s primary 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.
All photos and plans by Anmahian Winton Architects.