Royal Observatory, GreenwichEdit profile
Project description The National Maritime Museum represents an ensemble of important historic buildings set within an iconic landscape, the whole comprising the Greenwich World Heritage Site. The project for the Royal Observatory encompasses the restoration and upgrading of the South Building, as a new centre for Modern Astronomy, a new Planetarium and the redesign of the landscaping and visitor route through the museum. The development responds to the diverse demands of planetarium audiences, education groups and site visitors whilst opening up the south half of the Royal Observatory site. Past and future of astronomy at Greenwich Historically, astronomy at Greenwich was related to accurate mapping of the positions of the stars. The story of precision timekeeping for navigation is told in the northern half of the Observatory. The focus of the Time and Space project was to bring this story up to date on the southern part of the site. Modern astronomy now concentrates on the composition of the stars and our place in the universe, the �what� rather than the �where�, fulfilling the Museum�s remit of contributing to the public understanding of astronomy. Courts in the Park In recent years the southern half of the site had become under used and little visited. The two 1890�s observatory buildings were falling out of use. The South Building, built in stages from 1891 to 1899, was originally used as an observatory for the study of astrophysics. The cruciform building is surmounted by a dome which formerly housed the Thompson Equatorial telescope, but in recent years had been used as a small planetarium. The new stone-paved public court creates a formal setting for the buildings on the south half of the site. The slope of the paving enables level public access directly into the South Building. Surrounded by the trees of Greenwich Park, the new court feels like a clearing in the woods. Newly paved spaces at the lower level create courts for outdoor events and caf� tables overlooking the Park. New planetarium The new 118-seat Peter Harrison Planetarium sits between its two nineteenth century neighbours. Access to the auditorium is at lower ground level through a new foyer, a flexible space for evening functions as well as gathering pre-show crowds. The first digital planetarium projector in Europe can now immerse audiences in space and show current images sent back by space probes. Above ground, the planetarium is enclosed by a tilted bronze cone whose geometry is defined by its location and orientation. Its leading edge is aligned with the North Star (a line parallel with the axis of the earth, which makes an angle with the ground; exactly equal to the latitude of Greenwich). The disc cut at 90� with this edge, is parallel to the equator and clad in layers of reflecting glass, reflects only the northern hemisphere of the night sky. The Planetarium is principally a stone-clad insitu concrete box. The cone superstructure, which extends to the lower ground floor level, is formed from 250mm thick sprayed concrete on a steel framework. The concrete shell�s primary purpose is to maintain acoustic separation. The cone is clad in an 8mm thick phosphor bronze carapace which was prefabricated in Gateshead then brought to site in 18 segments. The panels were craned into place and site welded to achieve the exact conic geometry of an astronomical instrument. Each segment is supported only at the base in a ring of 36 fixings leaving the bronze free to expand and contract. The final bronze finish has been achieved by 5 layers of patination, a technique usually applied to bronze sculptures, which will get richer over time. The auditorium itself is represented as an instrument, an object in the landscape, supporting rather than competing with the existing buildings. The South Building The key to reusing the cramped interior of the Grade II* Listed South Building was the removal of the central masonry core, built originally to give stable support to the telescope. The helical staircase that takes its place becomes the building�s central organisational feature. With English Heritage�s support and encouragement it was possible to make significant external modifications including the removal of the original entrance steps, recalled in the new flight of steps from Blackheath Avenue, and modifications to window and door openings. Internally the building accommodates four new galleries exploring modern astronomy, a new education centre on the upper floors, an impressive new seminar room within the dome, and visitor facilities including a shop and cafe on the lower ground floor. The simple detailing of the original interiors has been continued in the vocabulary of the new modern insertions. Altazimuth Pavilion building The second building on the site, the Altazimuth, has also been refurbished and its dome overhauled, so that it can continue to function as a working observatory for small groups. A solarscope has been mounted internally for daytime observation of the sun, with a working telescope for nighttime viewing. This establishes a living link with historic astronomy, reinforced by displays on the enlarged ground floor. Hidden axes of the site The Royal Observatory site is defined by two divergent axial lines � the historic axis of the Park which runs through Inigo Jones� Queen�s House and the N-S meridian line. Both underpin the site layout of the scheme. The Park axis, now picked up by Blackheath Avenue, defines the east side of the Royal Observatory site. The new entrance gateways open off this and deflect to its geometry, making generous forecourts to each entry point. The north-south alignment is present in all the scientific observatory buildings on the site. The new planetarium also aligns with this and lies almost exactly between the historic meridian and the new GPS location. The two principal, previously conflicting axes are resolved by the new landscape in a single composition.
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