The 116th John Stewardson Memorial Fellowship Competition
Earth contains a variety of life, biodiversity, forms and natural patterns shaped by adaptive processes and sometimes human intervention. These collective variables all make up a complex web of cause and effect; ultimately creating a fabric of life with intertwining threads that all contribute to one system. As a society our cultural identity within this framework and curiosity of astronomy and science is deeply rooted in the innate human need to find and discover answers. In the past, we’ve used the stars as a source of direction to guide our way and in some form or another we continue to do so today. Many of the solutions that we’ve discovered up to the modern day still come from the natural environment and fuel the creation of essential cures, genetic modifications and technological inventions that we use in our everyday lives. As our world and source of answers slowly dissipate from human activity, we look to astronomy and space once again for solutions to our most contemporary problems affecting our world such as climate change, war and famine.
While scientist and the public still do not thoroughly understand the language of the universe, the intention of looking to space in search of answers is a reflection of our human essence. With this idea in mind, the proposal of this observatory in Mount Lemmon, Arizona, was designed with the sole purpose of combining the traditional functions of a scientific observatory with intense moments crafted by the use of fabric and technology. These nodes within the facility utilize a selection of fabric based materials, technology and light to trigger brief instants where people pause to digest the emotion and data visualized within the space.
There are three major nodes within the space where these moments of reflection can occur. The first appears upon reaching the facility where an ellipsoid subtraction of the building is constructed with a translucent ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) film and underlying fabric. This surface allows for live projections to manifest the front entrance where tourists and scientists alike will enter. The data visualization projected on this surface can vary from a live feed of the hemispheric change from day to night, a recording of a previous observation of the stars or a live feed of contemporary events. The goal of this intervention is to provide a larger framework of relatable data for people to view. The second node exists in the transition from lobby to observation space in the spiral staircase where the cylindrical walls are created through a process called fabric-formed concrete. Traditionally, this process is employed for parametric forms that can’t be produced through traditional methods but, when used with in combination with a textured fabric, light can emphasize the natural patterns mirrored onto the surface. This space in particular provides a moment that is meant to mimic the natural populous of stars and serves a blur of data between the first and third node. The third node, the observatory dome, uses an unconventional construction approach to achieve the form. The dome is an inflatable weather-resistant fabric that rises and moves with the Schulman 32-inch telescope. At the center of the dome is a metallic lens aligned with the lens of the telescope and protects it from the elements. More importantly, this allows for an adaptable dome structure that can conform to the movement of the telescope and grants the ability to retract the structure and telescope as needed during severe weather.