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Kielder Observatory – A Qualitative Response

 

Building: Kielder Observatory, Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland

Construction: July 2007 – May 2008

Architect: Charles Barclay Architects London

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A recent visit to this simple but alluring structure prompted me to put into words thoughts and feelings of the experience.

The approach to Kielder Observatory is via a two kilometre track which winds itself through the rugged landscape offering many different vistas of the forest and water. Quite beautiful and alluring during daylight hours, it takes on a far more sinister persona in the blackness of the night.

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Dusk is approaching on a cold, windy April evening as our journey to the observatory begins. The wild landscape envelops us and whispers through the trees – enchanting, spiritual, peaceful. It is a strange sensation that takes precedent over any other thoughts of the “outside world”. The journey is continued in silence, contemplating the breathtaking beauty and anticipating this new addition to the landscape and how it will form a relationship both with the land and the sky. There is an initial view of the South Elevation, just a rectangular box, but this disappears as the path continues to wind – a tempting glimpse of the unusual structure ahead. The track seems to go on for ever as the excitement and intrigue continues to build until finally the Observatory simply appears in view, quietly announcing its arrival on this isolated site.

The natural materiality of the building and its modest scale allows it to sit lightly on the land. It’s structure somewhat unexpected, disguises the primary function of this building. It has a simple, linear structure that could pass for the deck of a boat or some kind of space ship – not the typical domed astronomical structure. A closer inspection reveals the addition of galvanised steel shutters to the timber, clearly suggesting this building is not all it seems and that its true purpose is hidden below these openings.

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As one explores the exterior of the Observatory, listens to the sound of the timber decking, feels the smoothness of the guiding handrail, runs a hand over the tactile vertical cladding then pauses on the serene observation deck, only the sound of the wind in the whirring turbine disturbs our thoughts as we breathe in this magnificent alliance of land and sky.

Internally, the space is cosy, warm and possesses a simple and open architectural language. The turrets’ interiors are full of charm and do not phase those new to astronomy even though they are charged with both protecting and revealing the hi-tech telescopic instruments. The moment the shutters open to reveal the sky is a truly magical and breathtaking experience. The daylight has faded, the land is cloaked in darkness and the true mystery and soul of this place reveals itself in all its glory.

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