The planetarium and science center project by Gillot + Givry is designed to be a strong image in the urban context of the city of Chalet-a-Gobet, Switzerland. Worth and deserving specific treatment, it is important to strike the right balance against such a strong backdrop of heritage. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Creating harmony with existing features and asserting the presence of an exceptional project do not necessarily go hand in hand but that does not mean that these two principles are mutually opposed. In line with the traditional large frameworks used locally, the wooden structures used here will provide a contemporary feel. The silhouettes of these large roof structures are reminiscent of the universal figures of architecture with cosmic dimensions.
The major challenge in terms of the project’s urban integration was to design an appropriate entrance. This was complex due to the strong presence of the hostel which eclipses the other buildings. Two significant proposals were put forward to resolve this issue and to strengthen the polarity in the planetarium’s favor. Firstly, the presence of the hostel can be subdued through the use of greenery and a reorganized buffer zone with the road to Bern. Secondly, a striking sign can be created to attract the public to the building. This can be achieved simply by channeling a route to the entrance. A canopy and lake act as clear markers. The presence of the reception building is established by using the building volume to a maximum. This layout makes the entrance to the planetarium easily identifiable.
The site has the advantage of a courtyard, providing the hamlet’s unity. The various features of the project are however scattered in different buildings. The creation of a roadside reception hall leads us to consider access to the other sections of the project. The canopy strengthens the relation between the buildings and naturally includes the hostel in the system. Visitors can therefore move around under shelter and the glass walls provide protection from the wind. This link is not heated so as not to give rise to excessive energy consumption. The other unifying feature is graphic and acts as a bridge between the reception building and the planetarium. By replicating the structural pattern, the functional link between the two significant features of the project is clear.
As the center is devoted to understanding and contemplating nature, it is natural and necessary to provide a project that is exemplary in environmental terms. Resources are saved by using the existing structures as much as possible. This reuse of former buildings illustrates a drive to limit the site’s embodied energy, in addition to the inherent financial gains. The use of glued-laminated timber in prefabricated units results in swift assembly as part of the dry process, leading to a clean and quiet construction site. The various technologies used will enable the building to meet exceptional long-term environmental goals, in particular with regard to heating and lighting energy consumption, water and waste treatment and ambient and indoor air quality.
The porosity of the proposed envelopes is in contrast with the opacity of the old buildings. Visitors’ eyes are drawn from the inside to the outside, and to the cosmos, and conversely from the outside to the planetarium, which serves as a microcosm. This use of transparency reflects the site’s vocation to promote an observation of the world. The notion of “seeing above and beyond” is at the very core of the project.
The location of the exhibition spaces have been selected to leverage existing volumes. While the planetarium room naturally finds its place in the stables, the former barracks with its impressive roof structure provides interesting spatiality. Generous spaces are created by hollowing out the building’s flooring and redistributing it over only two levels. Features of the framework are preserved and highlighted to provide a historical continuity to the project. Translucent volumes descend from the roof in the volume of the first floor so that the space is steeped in natural light. On the lower level visual openings are created. Under the planetarium, they cut across towards a green wall in the ESA/ESO area. In the other direction, a longitudinal opening creates a link between this area and the exhibition space. This opening, both visual and physical, frees up the possibilities of use for various themes.
Signs at Night
The very nature of the project involves its use at night. The reception hall aims to mark the entrance to the site in the night hours. It is also above all the starting point of the path leading to the observation terrace. The night light is therefore necessary and is one of the project’s major assets. It must, however, ensure that no light pollution is generated. The filter created by the structure and the layers of glazing let through a subtly measured quantity of light. The exterior will never be exposed to amounts of light. Visitors will follow a trail of LEDs embedded in the ground to reach their destination. This system will provide markers for visitors without straining their eyes. It also has an educational aspect in analogy with the constellations. It is a simplified demonstration of how travelers used the stars to guide them in ancient times.