Gemma Observatory / by Anmahian Winton Architects

This private astronomical observatory is located 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.

Gemma’s design rejects a traditional dome in favor of a synthesized architectural form that maximizes usable 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 natural and man-made landscapes. 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.

Gemma Observatory
Central New Hampshire, USA

Anmahian Winton Architects:
Alex Anmahian AIA, Nick Winton AIA,
Project Manager: Mazen Sakr
Team: Anika Gramsey, Travis Williams

General Contractor: Patriots Builders – Scott Estabrooks

Structural Engineers: RSE, Associates, Inc. – Sofya Auren P.E.

Technical Motion Engineers: Gillespie Corp.

Rotating Rail Mechanism: THK

Metal Installers: Crocker Architectural Sheet Metal Co., Inc.

Steel: Quinn Brothers Iron Works

Structural Insulated Panels: Foard Panels Inc.

Decorative Steel:
Concentric Fabrication LLC – Rob Lorenson
Tresfort Metal Works – Pierre Tresfort

Solar Panel Design: SunBug Solar

Anmahian Winton Architects’ Gemma Observatory has received a 2017 AZ Award in the category Architecture under 1,000m².

About Anmahian Winton Architects

AW Architects is a highly collaborative, multi-disciplinary practice committed to design and construction innovation. For more than twenty years, the firm has been producing acclaimed, innovative projects across a broad spectrum of building types, including complex commissions for private and public institutions, both nationally and overseas.

Recognized nationally and internationally, AW has been widely published in American and European media and has received numerous design awards, including the American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award for Architecture, the Society of College and University Planners’ Merit Award for Excellence in Architecture, the Chicago Athenaeum’s American Architecture Award, and the Boston Society of Architects’ Harleston Parker Medal.

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