Spacecraft is a B.Arch thesis about opposites of scale: scales of space, scales of program, scales of time. Taking the form of an astronomical observatory and a house for a watchmaker, Spacecraft is located in the gorges of Treman State Park in Ithaca, New York.
Spacecraft reveals commonalities between watchmaking and astronomy through the mechanistic qualities of the instruments involved but also through the act of seeing. At opposing scales, the watchmaker towers over his creations, peering down through a loupe, while the astronomer places her eye to the end of a massive telescope and gazes upwards into the heavens. One counts time in fractions of a second while the other counts in aeons.
The siting of Spacecraft within the orthogonally cut rocks of the gorge provides a way for one to immediately see the sublime age of the Earth in the layers of exposed rock. Through the understanding of the age of the Earth in the site and the age of the cosmos through the astronomical observatory, one is able to better understand his or her place in the world. The gorge is a sublime locale for the comprehension of sublime scales, and Spacecraft is the instrument which facilitates this understanding.
The program is distributed in layers with the roof (ground) level consisting of an astronomical garden which links into the existing trail system along the edge of the gorge. The level below is the public observatory and exhibition space. The watchmaker lives privately in the lowest level. Much like the keeper of a lighthouse, he maintains the observatory, the instrument he calls home.
Spacecraft questions how we can begin to locate ourselves within the world as well as locate our place within the universe. The effects of not only studying but also designing at multiple scales have universal and sublime effects on works of architecture.
Professors M. Cruvellier, J. Wells
Professors M. Cruvellier, J. Wells
Much like the thesis itself, the research and precedent studies for Spacecraft covered a range of scales, functions, and times.
Since Spacecraft began as a house for a watchmaker, research began with a study of watches and the art of watchmaking and horology, the study of time. This research included watches and tools of watchmaking, as well as watchmaker’s desks, which have very particular proportions and elements.
It was quickly decided that the project was too small and introverted, so the search began for a more public program. Research shifted from watches to orreries, intricate clockwork models of celestial bodies, and then landed on telescopes, for they shared much of the complexity and mechanistic qualities of the watches. Thus the observatory program was added.
Observatory research spanned a range of times and locales. The ancient astronomical gardens and observatories at Jantar Mantar and Beijing were investigated, along with their more local and modern counterparts. Cornell University operates two observatories in Ithaca, Fuertes Observatory on campus and the Hartung Boothroyd Observatory nearby, which houses a telescope containing a 1/8th scale mirror constructed as practice before manufacturing the 200-inch mirror for Palomar Observatory in California.
The research reveals commonalities between watchmaking and astronomy not only through the mechanistic qualities of the instruments involved but through the act of seeing. At opposing scales, the watchmaker towers over his creations, peering down at them through a loupe, while the astronomer places her eye to the end of a massive telescope and gazes upwards into the heavens. One counts time in fractions of a second while the other counts in aeons.
A certain attitude towards site also began to emerge through the research. The often simple forms of the observatory domes created a sublime relation to the landscape in which they were situated. The scales of space and time implied through the act of astronomical observation bring into question man’s place in the world and in the cosmos. The observatories themselves become vessels for this scalar connection.
It was necessary for the site to serve not only the program but the ideas behind Spacecraft. In the beginning, the abandoned marble quarries of Vermont were mapped and researched. They were chosen for the rigid layered geometry of the rock as well as the dramatic cliffs they contained. But the quarries turned out to be too contained, and lacked the high points needed to obtain the skyward views required for an observatory.
The final site is a gorge in Treman State Park just outside Ithaca, New York. Spacecraft is located at the edge of the gorge and links into the park’s existing trail system. Treman State Park contains a wholly unique geological phenomenon which produces rocks split at perfectly right angles, resulting in a gridded, layered landscape carved into the Earth. Were it not for the age of the site to convince one otherwise, it would appear to be an artificially manufactured landscape.
The site supports the thesis in two primary ways: it provides a specific sequence or journey by which one arrives, and it provides a way for one to immediately see the sublime age of the Earth in the layers of exposed rock. The latter creates an opportunity for one to understand the age of the Earth in the site and the age of the cosmos through the observatory. It is a sublime locale for the comprehension of sublime scales.
The final project is an instrument in the landscape. Through an exploration of the two main levels, the rooftop astronomical garden and the observatory, one gains an understanding of the age of the Earth, the age of the cosmos, and begins to better understand their place in the world.
The Watchmaker lives in the lowest level, hidden from the public. He maintains the observatory and the great orrery, a massive astronomical model and clock housed beneath the telescope. The clockwork mechanism accounts for the rotation of the Earth, tracking the sky so the telescope may maintain a view deep into the cosmos as the planet hurtles through space.