The Observatory

SPUD, Winchester Lymington Burton Bradstock Mottisfont Buckler’s Hard

The Observatory: rotating artist studio, roaming the south coast


The Observatory is an award winning pair of rotating cabins, which provide shelter for resident artists and their audiences at various off-grid locations along the south coast. They are a beacon, a lookout and an opportunity to look in, to learn from and engage with the artists and their work.

The twin structures float just above the ground, striking distinctive silhouettes against their natural environments.  Each rotates with a hand operated crank, allowing the resident artist and the public to orientate their view, change the way they interact, shelter from the wind or make the most of the sun.  The cabins are striking and playful objects in the wider landscape, and on closer inspection they reveal richly textured surfaces and subtly different uses.

The Study is a private space for the resident artist. It is weathertight and insulated with a large pivot glass door. There is a desk, a small charcoal heater, rainwater collection and a solar panel supplying an electric socket.

The Workshop is open to the weather and the public. For people to wonder around and through it, play, rest on the bench, shelter for a moment or meet the artist.

“This is a great example of architecture and art engaging the public. The client and architect achieved much with a low budget and many constraints. The result is playful, creative and much more than just a pavilion or folly.”

– RIBA South Awards Judges comments

Public Engagement

The Observatory was built to accommodate a two year programme of artist residencies.  The project was organised by the arts charity SPUD to encourage artists to work outside of their comfort zone and to engage with the public; stimulating research, conversations, collaboration and learning.  Those ambitions are reflected in the design of the cabins, in the dialogue and views created between them, and in the collaboration and research that went into their construction and an accompanying exhibition.


The cabins are made of timber and rope, materials chosen to reflect their coastal location and to contrast and soften their contemporary form.

The exterior timber cladding is blackened and charred using a traditional Japanese method of protecting and preserving wood: shou sugi ban.  The technique was untested in UK marine environments, so different timbers and finishing methods were used to assess the durability of each over the lifetime of the project.  The Observatory was the result of an inspiring collaboration with Devon based artist, Edward Crumpton, and the Workshop includes one of his tarred marlin rope installations, which doubles as an excellent climbing frame for young passers-by.

Client: SPUD

Artist: Edward Crumpton

Structural Engineer: Jane Wernick & Unitspark

Contractor: S&S Construction

Photography: Matt Dunkinson & Richard Battye

Role: Architect, Supplier, Mentor, Exhibition Designer

The Observatory is by a group of young architects working at FCBS: myself, Charlotte Knight, Mina Gospavic and Lauren Shevills.  We completed the project largely under our own steam and partly in our own time, with the fantastic support of Julie Gaulter and Peter Clegg.

The project was designed and built over the course of 9 months.  We partnered with James Latham to source the timber cladding, and burnt and coated it on a farm in Devon.  We helped SPUD with outreach and learning programmes that ran alongside the project, and built an exhibition about the design and material research, which went on display to coincide with the project’s launch.

We were fortunate to be supported by FCBS as an independent group, and to work with a client who had a clear purpose and believes passionately in fostering young talent through partnerships and collaboration.


2015 Wood Awards – Small Project Winner

2016 RIBA South Regional Award

2016 Pro-Tem Civic Trust Award

2016 AJ Small Projects – Readers Choice

2016 Stephen Lawrence Prize – Shortlist