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Celestial Reflections

Part 2 Project 2009
Theodore Dales
University of Bath Bath UK
The force of gravity defines the world in which we live. The days, months and years that pass are a consequence of the motions of celestial bodies held together by gravity. Celestial Reflections is an investigation into these phenomena, amplifying the interactions of celestial bodies as experienced on earth. It also examines the way in which these forces of nature have a perceivable impact upon an urban environment.

Sited just to the south of the Severn Estuary, Bristol is heavily bonded to its marine heritage and is home to the worlds second biggest tidal range which can exceed fifteen metres. This project addresses how the city of Bristol can re-connect with its topographical context, global position and celestial interrelationships.

The connection with marine transport and trade has completely altered the appearance of Bristol with the floating harbour, formerly the city's industrial heartland, now forming a vital part of the cultural and urban landscape. Before the harbour was constructed the River Avon snaked its way through the heart of the city, with cyclic tides affecting the day to day lives of its inhabitants. Today this watercourse survives in the form of the floating harbour, balanced by the tidal capacity of the hand dug 'New Cut'.

This thesis explores how the movements of the planets can help generate a contemporary built form, and how in turn that built form can connect with natural phenomenon caused by the movements of the planets. How these relationships interact with one another is then considered in an urban context alongside human interest and activities.

As a meditation on the nature of time, this project uses architecture as a device to distort perception of time allowing interaction with a natural phenomenon which would otherwise not be possible.

Theodore Dales


The earth moves around the sun whilst the moon moves around the earth. This perpetual dance affects tidal movements and seasonal changes and has consequences that are deeply embedded in our culture and history. This project demonstrates how architecture can enable the experience and understanding of these elemental forces which once would have moulded the pattern of everyday life in this part of Bristol.

It is a public building consisting of 3 elements: A tower, a landscape building and a planetarium providing recreational, exhibition and educational spaces for both the local community and a wider audience.

The tower is best described as an occupiable sundial, an immense volume the lighting of which is particular to each moment in the day and to each day of the year. In the same way that a surfer might feel the swell and movement of the tidal waters surrounding him this building would envelope the visitor with the visceral experience of changing sunlight. The form of the tower is a representation of the accumulated movements of the earth around the sun throughout the course of one year.

The landscape buildings provide rooms such as a restaurant and exhibition spaces. At low tide they read as a continuous whole at high tide they read as fragmented islands. Internally these changes manifest as a changing quality of light or a view becoming water. The natural phenomenon of a rising tide is manipulated to be sometimes gradual and sometimes fast to create events that mark the passage of time and around which to focus the use of the building.

Finally the planetarium, a volume which appears to be entirely cut off at high tide provides the visitor with a destination and a conceptual explanation behind these events.

This building offers a journey in which natural phenomena reveal themselves both as perceptual and intellectual experiences. There is a monumental quality evocative of the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur or the sound radars in Dungeness but these structures were instruments on a large scale. The purpose of this project is to create a new public place in which knowledge of celestial movements is embedded back into the way in which that place is occupied.

Tutor(s)

2009
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