MCA Overall Excellence Winner – Gemma Observatory


The Metal Construction Association (MCA) awarded Gemma Observatory in Southern New Hampshire its 2016 Chairman’s Award for Overall Excellence, the highest honor given.

The 1,200 square-foot observatory is sited at the end of a steep, 1/2-mile gravel road on a remote summit, characterized by granite bedrock outcroppings. At the center of a 3-mile radius of dark landscape, there is very little light pollution for optimal astronomical viewing. Anmahian Winton Architects created a design that dismissed the traditional observatory dome in favor of an architectural form expressed as an extension of the site’s angular geography.

“There is a turret on the top that rotates, but unlike every other observatory, which is a round shape, it’s more like a Rubik’s Cube. It’s just fascinating and beautiful,” describes MCA judge Brent Schipper, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, ASK Studio in Des Moines, Iowa.

Metal’s adaptability to different architectural forms made it an ideal material for cladding the building’s innovative shape and moving parts.  Metal also can quickly dissipate heat gain once the sun has set. This is crucial to eliminating atmospheric distortion created by the building (similar to mirages produced on a hot day from materials that absorb heat like asphalt) and maximizes the time available for night sky observation.

The variable directionality of the panels reflects the building’s orientation to both geological and celestial landmarks, merging their different geometries and expressing the observatory as a nexus for where they come together. In addition, the zinc color matches the granite outcroppings, tying the building to its immediate environment.

“It appears that (the mountain stones) were pushed up against the base of the foundation… and then transforms into metal and becomes this small building. Because the scale, even though it’s not that big of a building, you could think it was ten stories tall,” describes MCA judge Mark Dewalt, AIA, Principal, Valerio Dewalt Train Associates, Chicago, Illinois.

Furthermore, metal met the need to create a sustainable structure that functions completely off the grid. The zinc panels require no maintenance and are part of a super-insulated wall assembly that minimizes the cost of operating the building.

Project Recognition

MCA Member Manufacturer: Umicore Building Products USA, Inc.
Architect: Anmahian Winton Architects
Contractor: Patriots Builders (Scott Estabrooks)
Metal Installer: Crocker Architectural
Metal Fabricator: Crocker Architectural

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