The Observatory : Look In & Look Out

3 June 2014

On site at Lymington - Keyhaven Nature Reserve


Great Britain's south western coastline is a draw to thousands of visitors each year who admire the sublime beauty of its landscapes. We all acknowledge this inherently strong connection between the landscape and its audience in art, literature and photography, but can this link be redefined and perhaps amplified through architecture?

The Observatory Competition, organised by the SPUD Group, is an opportunity to address this relationship by using architecture to initiate a critical dialogue between the audience and the landscape. The winning design proposals’ for a mobile artist’s studio by FCBS architectural assistants Lauren Shevills, Mina Gospavic, Charlotte Knight, Ross Galtress and Devon based artist Edward Crumpton, will define the context of this new engagement.

The design aspires to articulate the collaborative process between architecture and art, with a highly crafted and distinctive proposal for The Observatory, Two black, volumetric beacons are to sit lightly within the landscape to house multidisciplinary artists in residence for up to two months at a time in four rural locations by south western coast. Primarily referential to coastal defence structures and ‘look out’ points that are prolific along the British coastline, the two forms act together as a focus for artists and audiences to experience and encounter one another, one offering a place to work and the other as a place to linger.

Reflecting on Antonello da Messina’s painting of St. Jerome in his Study, the viewer is invited into the framed space of the artist, where the landscape is framed beyond. The two structures act as shifting framing devices which reveal multiple parts of the landscape to the audience. The Study, a weather tight **environment for the artist and his work and The Workshop, a semi open shelter for the audience, sit together on rotating mechanisms which allow the artist and audience to rotate the structures to face new points of interest. When approaching the Observatory from a far, the audience will see an architectural landmark that changes its orientation in response to the desires of the artist and public, who rotate the structures to frame various parts of the landscape. They are the agents of a nuanced, shifting architectural landmark which also questions the role of the observer and the observed. If the structures rotate and happen to face each other, the relationship between artist and audience is reversed and the traditional notions of public and private space are fragmented.

Inspired by the natural beauty of sustainable materials, the black, charred timber cladding inserts The Observatory into the sublime British landscape as an elegant, geometric silhouette. Using the traditional Japanese wood burning technique of Shou Sugi Ban, the sustainably sourced cedar cladding will be preserved to last the coastline’s harsh weather throughout the 2 year residency period. Further testing of timber charring methods will also inform the craftsmanship and detailing of The Observatory to ensure that a project of exceptional design quality is realised.

With rigorous research, attention to detail and continued inter-disciplinary collaboration, the design team hope to realise a project that creates moments of meaningful engagement between everyone that has a chance to look upon, into or out of the Observatory.

Images (c) Matt Dunkinson for SPUD