Students Design Perkin Observatory Landscaping – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Design Perkin Observatory Landscaping

In July, four Hobart and William Smith architecture students presented their landscape design proposals for the new Richard S. Perkin Observatory.

Completed earlier in 2016, the Perkin Observatory is a nearly 1,000-square-foot teaching and outreach facility that provides students with opportunities to observe and photograph astronomical objects trillions of miles from Earth. The building, which sits adjacent to the Katherine D. Elliott Studio Arts Center, offered an ideal blank canvas for Garth Burke ’17, Audrey English ’17, Sarah Pullman ’18 and J.P. White ’17 to put their design skills into practice on campus.

Selected from a pool of applicants during the spring semester, the students are interns who are working with Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Gabriella D’Angelo this summer.

The students and D’Angelo generated landscape design concepts for the Perkin Observatory Committee to consider. In the process, they researched native Finger Lakes flora, investigated the work of notable landscapers, and studied the materials, textures and layouts of current campus landscaping. D’Angelo and the student interns also met with faculty members who will use the observatory. The final proposals included design features such as outdoor teaching spaces, interspersed telescope platforms and a mile-long “solar walk,” featuring a scaled-down version of the solar system to demonstrate the distances between planets.

“Overall, I think the students created compelling and energizing landscape proposals for the observatory site,” says D’Angelo. “This project was a great challenge for them to take on as summer interns because it introduced new aspects of the design process, content and technologies, and expanded upon the experience and knowledge they have acquired as majors.”

During their presentations to the members of the HWS Buildings and Grounds staff and the Perkins Observatory Committee, the four architecture majors offered a variety of approaches in their designs, drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscape as well as the observatory’s purpose.

Burke, an anthropology and sustainable community development minor, took a traditional approach, interspacing lighting between trees lining the entry road, while English, a studio art minor, devoted special attention to the “solar walk,” with a dark stone path and flowerbeds representing the planets.

Pullman, who is minoring in studio art, featured only native plants with various blooming seasons, so that the landscape transforms throughout the year. 

With his design, White, an environmental studies minor, sought a similar floral interest and created a design consistent with the HWS campus, incorporating rows of tall, thin hornbeam trees to ensure a clear view of the sky.

The Colleges received two institutional grants from The Perkin Fund to support the construction of the Perkins Observatory. The facility is named in honor of Richard S. Perkin, co-founder of the Perkin-Elmer Corporation, which designed and engineered precision high-tech devices utilized in space satellites and U2 spy planes. Perkin was the grandfather of Christopher Perkin ’95, a trustee of the Perkin Fund.

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